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“A  ‘must’  for  everyone, 
Christian  and  Jew  alike. 
—Tin:  Hew  York  Times 

A celebration  of  the 
stories,  traditions,  legends, 
humor,  wisdom,  heroes 
and  songs  of  the  Jewish  people 

Specially  abridged  and  with  a 
new  introduction  by  Alan  Mintz 


13807-3  * $3.95  * 


Where  but  in  A TREASURY  OF  JEWISH 
FOLKLORE  can  you  find  such  a wealth  of  delight- 
ful material  on  Jewish  heritage?  No  wonder  the  hard- 
cover edition  has  gone  through  32  printings! 

Now,  for  the  first  time,  this  Bantam  paperback 
available  to  millions  more  readers  than  ever  before. 

Whatever  the  size  of  your  library,  you’ll  want  to 
own  this  magnificent  collection,  which  includes  “The 
King  of  Schnorrers,”  “Note  to  Obstetricians,”  “Where 
Is  Paradise?”  “The  Poor  Man’s  Miracle,”  and  over 
500  more  classic  tales. 

A Treasury  of 





Specially  abridged  and  with  a new 
introduction  by  Alan  Mintz 

A Bantam  Book  / published  by  arrangement  with 
Crown  Publishers,  Inc. 

Crown  edition  published  June  1948 
33rd  printing  June  1978 
A Selection  of  Jewish  Book  Club  October  1973 
Bantam  abridged  edition  / October  1980 

All  rights  reserved. 

Copyright  1948  by  Crown  Publishers,  Inc. 

Renewed  copyright  © 1976  by  Crown  Publishers,  Inc. 
Abridged  edition  copyright  © 1980  by  Bantam  Books,  Inc . 
Introduction  copyright  © 1980  by  Alan  Mintz. 

Cover  art  copyright  © 1980  by  Bantam  Books,  Inc. 

This  book  may  not  be  reproduced  in  whole  or  in  part,  by 
mimeograph  or  any  other  means,  without  permission. 

For  information  address:  Crown  Publishers,  Inc., 

One  Park  Avenue,  New  York,  New  York  10016. 

ISBN  0-553-13807-3 

Published  simultaneously  in  the  United  States  and  Canada 

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who  shared  with  me  the  labor  as  well  as  the 
delight  of  rediscovering  the  beauty, 
laughter  and  wisdom  of  our 
people’s  lore. 


note:  All  items  not  otherwise  credited  are  the  work  of  the  editor. 
These  are  stories  from  Oral  Tradition  and  adaptations  from 
foreign-language  sources. 

Preface  to  the  Bantam  Edition  xvii 

Introduction  xxiii 

Part  One:  JEWISH  SALT 

Such  Odds!  2 

The  Realist  2 

Higher  Mathematics  3 

Richer  than  Rothschild  3 

A Lesson  in  Talmud  3 

Hitting  the  Bull’s  Eye  4 

Lost  and  Found  5 

So  What?  5 

Why  Only  One  Adam?  6 

His  Fault  7 

It  Was  Obvious  7 

He  Had  Him  Coming  and 
Going  8 

The  Fine  Art  of  Fanning  9 
For  Honor  10 

No  Target  10 

Pain  and  Pleasure  11 

The  Rabbi’s  Nourishment  11 

Cheap  11 

He  Ran  for  His  Health  12 

World-Weary  13 

Truth  in  Gay  Clothes  13 

What  Is  Greatness?  14 

The  Modest  Saint  14 

The  Poor  Are  Willing  14 

There  Are  Miracles  and 

Miracles  IS 

The  Expert  15 

No  Loan!  15 

A Quick  Prayer  16 

Schnapps  Wisdom  16 

He  Should  Have  Taken 
More  Time  16 

It  Pays  to  Be  Ignorant  17 

Equally  Logical  18 

The  Life  of  a Jew!  18 

Nebich!  19 

The  Modest  Rabbi  19 

The  Secret  of  Power  20 

Circumdsional  Evidence  21 
The  Sled  Story  21 

A Rabbi  for  a Day  22 

All  Right  24 

Why  the  Hair  on  the  Head 
Turns  Gray  Before  the 
Beard  24 

The  Way  Anti-Semites 

Reason  26 

The  Relativity  of  Distance  26 



Part  Two:  HEROES 






Wise  and  Learned  men 

The  Last  Trouble  Is  the 





The  Parable  of  the  Wise 

The  Romance  of  Akiba 




The  Rabbi  and  the 

Know  Before  You  Criticize 




The  Man  and  the  Angel  of 

Shallow  Judgment 




The  Vanity  of  Rabbi 

Barking  Dogs 


Mar  Zutra 


The  Rosebush  and  the 

Grief  in  Moderation 


Apple  Tree 


The  Virtue  of  the 

The  Parable  of  the  Old 





Why  God  Gave  No 

Wisdom  to  Fools 


Learning  Knows  No  Class 


The  Ancient  Art  of 

Learning  That  Leads  to 




The  Parable  of  the  Two 





Always  Two  Possibilities 


The  Best  and  the  Worst 

It  Could  Always  Be  Worse 




Wishes  Must  Never  Be 

God’s  Delicacy 




An  Author’s  Life  After 

Damning  with  Praise 




A Brief  Sermon 


An  Unpredictable  Life 


Mikhail  Ivanovitch  Makes 

Stale  Ancestors — Stale 

a Discovery 




The  Cheapest  Way 


The  Most  Valuable 

Why  Scholars  Have 



Homely  Wives 


Learning  and  Knowing 


The  Arrogant  Rabbi 




Love  of  Perfection 




A Reason  for  Every  Custom  51 

Wise  Judges 

Why  Jerusalem  Was 





The  Old  Man  and  the 

Where  Is  Paradise? 


Snake  and  the  Judgment 

of  Solomon 


Whose  Was  the  Blame? 



A Very  Ancient  Law 


The  Discerning  Judge 




What’s  in  a Name? 


Man  Understands  But  Little 


Equal  Justice 


The  Poor  Man’s  Miracle 


The  Saving  Voice 


The  Giant  and  the  Cripple 


He  Didn’t  Deserve  His  Fee 


The  Blessing 

For  Whom  the  Cock  Crowed 
Too  Clever  Is  Not  Clever 

Riddle  Solvers 

Alexander’s  Instruction 
The  Wisdom  of  the  Jews 




How  to  Replenish  a 





Rabbinical  Arithmetic 


The  Real  Son 

The  Innkeeper’s  Clever 




The  Farmer’s  Daughter 



The  Story  of  Kunz  and  His 






Cabalists,  Mystics  and 

Introduction  95 

Why  Rabbi  Israel  Laughed 
Three  Times  99 

The  Book  of  Mysteries  103 

The  Trial  of  Rabbi 
Gershon  109 

The  Poor  Wayfarer  110 

The  Cabalists  111 

The  Rabbi  Who  Wished  to 
Abolish  Death  116 

Asking  for  the  Impossible  1 17 
Rashi  and  Godfrey  of 
Bouillon  119 

Rabbi  Amram’s  Rhine 
Journey  120 

The  Hidden  Saint  122 

Messiah  Stories 
Introduction  123 

Joseph  della  Rayna  Storms 

Heaven  124 

The  Messiah  Came  to 
Town  136 

Why  the  Messiah  Doesn’t 
Come  136 

Skeptics  and  Scoffers 

Introduction  139 

Conclusive  Proof  139 

The  Right  Kind  of  Judge  140 
Leave  It  to  the  Rabbi  140 

Deduction  142 

Realistic  Miracles  142 

A Believer’s  Truth  142 

Miracles  142 

The  Farseeing  Rabbi  143 

Pipe-Dreams  143 

The  Gulden  Test  144 

A Fool  Asks  Too  Many 
Questions  145 

Part  Three:  THE  HUMAN  COMEDY 




Schnorrers  and 

They  Got  the  Itch 



On  the  Minsk-Pinsk  Line 




The  Schnorrer  and  the 


The  King  of  Schnorrers 




One  Blind  Look  Was 
Enough  170 

Price  Is  No  Object  170 

A Sure  Cure  170 

Every  Expert  to  His  Own 
Field  171 

No  Credit  171 

He  Spared  No  Expense  172 

A Local  Reputation  172 

The  Schnorrer-in-Law  172 

Wags  and  Wits 

Introduction  173 

He  Worried  Fast  174 

The  Choice  175 

Mutual  Introduction  175 

Tit  for  Tat  175 

The  Jew  and  the  Caliph  189 

You’re  as  Old  as  You  Feel  189 

Mazel  Tov!  189 

Wrong  Order  190 

The  Foresigh  ted  Traveller  190 

Dramatic  Criticism  190 

Why  Noodles  are  Noodles  191 

The  Big  Blow  191 

The  Sacrifice  Was  Too 
Great  192 


Hershel’s  Conflict  192 

Hershel’s  Revenge  on  the 
Women  194 

Reciprocity  196 

How  Hershel  Almost 

Became  a Bigamist  196 

Hershel  as  Coachman  197 

The  Poor  Cow  199 

A Perfect  Fit  199 

A Tooth  for  a Tooth  201 

What  Hershel’s  Father 
Did  202 

Gilding  the  Lily  202 

When  Hershel  Eats 202 

Hershel  as  Wine-Doctor  205 

The  Feast  206 

The  Way  to  Die  208 

Fools  and  Simpletons 

Introduction  209 

What  Makes  a Fool  211 

Some  of  the  Nicest  People  211 
Why  Waste  Money?  212 
Philosophy  with  Noodles  212 
Surplus  213 

If  It  Were  Anyone  Else  213 
It’s  Terrible  214 

Making  It  Easy  214 

the  wisdom  of  chelm 

The  Mistake  215 

The  Golden  Shoes  215 

The  Chelm  Goat  Mystery  216 

Innocence  and  Arithmetic  221 

By  the  Beard  of  His 
Mother  222 

The  Great  Chelm 
Controversy  222 

Superfluous  223 

Wet  Logic  224 

Can  This  Be  I?  224 

The  Columbus  of  Chelm  224 

Food  Out  of  the  Horse’s 
Mouth  227 

A Sage  Question  228 

Chelm  Justice  228 

Pure  Science  228 

Overcoming  Messiah  229 

The  Umbrella  229 

Excavation  in  Chelm  229 

The  Worriers  of  Chelm  230 

The  Safeguard  230 

The  Discreet  Shammes  231 

A Riddle  231 

Taxes  231 

The  Affair  of  the  Rolling 
Trunk  232 

The  Secret  of  Growing  234 


The  Henpecked  Rabbi 
Poor  Man’s  Luck 
Two  Possibilities 
To  Avert  Disaster 
Poor  Fish 

A Jewish  Highwayman 
X Marks  the  Spot 
Marriages  Are  Made  in 


Vice  Is  Also  an  Art  243 










Ignoramuses  and 

From  What  Einstein 

Makes  a Living  244 

One  Use  for  Scholarship  244 
The  Truth  about  Falsehood  245 
A Violation  of  Nature  245 
It  Takes  More  than  Brains  245 
The  Diagnosis  246 

What  Does  It  Matter?  246 





An  Absent-Minded  Fellow 


Note  to  Obstetricians 


A Prayer  and  a Deal 


The  Dachshund 



Tricksters  and 

The  Strategists 



Total  Destruction 






The  Birds  That  Turned  to 

The  Thief  Who  Was  Too 





Miracles  and  Wonders 


You  Can’t  Fool  God 


The  Wise  Rogue 


Justice  in  Sodom 


Misers  and  Stingy 

Sodom’s  Bed  for  Strangers 



Charity  in  Sodom 


Example  in  Sodom 


The  Great  Experiment 


Cunning  Against  Greed 


The  Sweating  Will 


The  Way  Tailors  Figure 


The  Orphan 


He  Was  Underpaid 


He  Got  His  Ruble  Back 


The  Penitents 


The  Miser 


One  Shot  Too  Many 


Who  Counts? 


The  Clever  Thief 


A Sure  Sign 


Very  Very  Antique 


New  Management 




The  Ways  of  a Rogue 



Professional  Pride 


Saint  and  Sinner 


Honor  among  Thieves 


Heavenly  Justice 


Filial  Love 




Liars  and  Braggarts 

When  Prayer  Is  No  Help 






From  Bad  to  Worse 






A Tradesman’s  Revenge 


A Kindness 


Rothschild  and 

The  Rich  Uncle 


Other  Rich  Men 

Production  Worries 




His  Bad  Luck  Held 


Too  Late 


Discovery  at  7 a.  m. 


Whose  Money? 


Doctors  and 

Living  de  Luxe 



Rothschild’s  Poverty 


A Calculation 

The  Rights  of  Schnorrers 



Montefiore’s  Buttons 


One  of  the  Diseases  of 

The  Price  of  a Millionaire 




The  One  to  Call  the  Tune 


How  to  Collect  Dues 


True  Grief 




Steam-Bath  Soliloquy 


Rich  Man’s  Folly 


Waiters  and 

Credit  Too  Good 

A Father  with  Foresight 




The  Customer  Is  Always 






Out  of  Style 


A Fishy  Conversation 


Both  from  Minsk 

Napoleon  and  the  Jewish 



Oysters  for  Atonement 



Scholars  and 



Scripture  Teachers 

The  Unreasonable  Young 





Etiquette  Among  Scholars 
Goal  Achieved 

Strictly  Kosher 







Happiness,  Ready-to-Wear 
The  Art  of  Exaggeration 
The  Aristocrat 

The  Over-Enthusiastic 




The  Truth  Will  Out 



What  a Life! 



Speak  Up 


Only  Sometimes 


To  Save  Time 


In  Haste  • 




Ziisskind  the  Tailor 


The  Biggest  Favor 


The  Power  of  a Lie 


Secret  Strategy 


The  Merchant  from  Brisk 


Mother-in-Law  Relativity 




All  Agents  Are  Alike 



All  About  the  Elephant 
Babe  Ruth  and  the  Jewish 


Rabbinical  Limits 




Montefiore  and  the 

The  Captain 




Ready  for  Everything 


Animated  Conversation 


Also  a Minyan-Man 


The  Snob 


When  Your  Life  Is  in 

Pessimist  and  Optimist 




Why  Not? 


They  Misled  the  Gendarme  306 

Proper  Distinctions 


Very  Understandable 


Evil  to  Him  . . . 




Essential  Trade 




Cold  Hospitality 


Conversation  Piece 


Bitter  Jests 

Stop  Me  If  . . . 


A Livelihood 




A Full  Accounting 


The  Independent  Chicken 


Mother  Love 


Applied  Psychology 






No  Admittance 


God’s  Mercy 


Whose  Drawers? 


They  Shoot  First 




Sedition  Saved  Him 


A Matter  of  Degree 


Hitler’s  Circus 


Wasted  Protection 








Why  God  Forgives  Man 


The  Making  of  Adam 


King  David  Bows  Before 

The  First  Tear 


an  Idol 


Falsehood  and  Wickedness 


Better  than  a Dead  Lion 


Abraham  and  the  Idols 


The  Wall  of  the  Poor 


Abraham  Before  Nimrod 


Gates  of  Beauty 


God  Protects  the  Heathen 

The  Beauty  of  Simple 





Moses  the  Shepherd 


King  Solomon  and  the 

Israel  Undying 


Queen  of  Sheba 


The  Crossing  of  the  Red 

The  Origin  of  the  Roman 





The  Widow  and  the  Law 


The  Downfall  of  King 

The  Angels  Jealous  of 





The  Sorrow  of  Jeremiah 


The  Death  of  Moses 


The  Trials  of  Jonah 






Tapers  to  Heaven 


A Worthy  Companion 


Bontshe  the  Silent 


The  Piety  of  the  Heart 


The  Fear  of  Death 


What  Tipped  the  Scales 







Pope  Elhanan 


The  Great  Are  Also  Little 


Caught  in  His  Own  Trap 


The  Lord  Helpeth  Man 

The  Three  Daughters,  or 

and  Beast 


the  Evil  of  Tale  Bearing 


The  Acquisitive  Eye 


The  Faithful  Neighbor 


The  Power  of  Hope 


King  Ptolemy  and  the 

The  Test  of  a True  Friend 


Seventy  Wise  Jews 


Each  Man  to  His  Paradise 





The  Golem  of  Prague 


King  Solomon  and  the 

The  Miser’s 





The  Witches  of  Ascalon 


No  Privacy  Anywhere 


Introductory  Note  to  The 

The  Man  Who  Married  a 

Golem  of  Prague 







Know  Your  Enemy 


The  Fate  of  the  Wicked 

The  Wise  Bird  and  the 

(A  Fable  by  Rabbi  Meir)  451 

Foolish  Man 


The  Advantage  of  Being  a 

The  Fox  and  the  Foolish 





King  Leviathan  and  the 

The  Proper  Place  for  a 

Charitable  Boy 




The  Sly  Fox 


The  Curse  of  the  Indolent 


The  Price  of  Envy 


The  Fox  and  the  Leopard 



1.  PROVERBS  AND  3.  RIDDLES  480 


2.  FOLKQU1PS  478 










• • • 

h isl  v 

.-'j.e  , ■ • % ad 


Preface  to  the  Bantam  Edition 

Nathan  Ausubel’s  A Treasury  of  Jewish  Folklore,  which 
now  appears  for  the  first  time  in  a paperback  edition,  has  en- 
joyed nearly  forty  printings  during  the  four  decades  since  its 
first  publication.  The  Treasury  occupies  a place  in  hundreds 
of  thousands  of  home  libraries;  year  in  and  year  out  it  is 
given  as  a gift  at  moments  of  passage  and  celebration;  speak- 
ers and  writers  continue  to  rely  on  it  for  the  telling  anecdote 
or  the  illustrative  story. 

Why  has  Ausubel’s  collection  become  a popular  classic? 
The  reason,  I think,  lies  in  the  fact  that  this  volume  is  much 
more  than  an  anthology.  Anthologies,  by  their  nature,  are 
usually  makeshift  affairs;  they  stand  as  apologies  for  some 
more  comprehensive  treatment  of  a subject  that  cannot  yet  be 
written  or  that  no  one  has  bothered  to  write.  They  arouse  our 
expectations  but  quickly  disappoint  them,  decomposing  into  a 
series  of  unresolved  fragments  that  fail  to  amount  to  a real 
book.  In  contrast,  generations  of  readers  have  found  in 
Ausubel’s  Treasury  an  imaginative  unity  that  is  decidedly  not 
a substitute  for  something  more  complete.  Ausubel  has 
succeeded  in  realizing  the  aim  he  states  in  the  introduction  to 
this  volume:  to  render  a collective  portrait  of  the  Jewish 
people.  Though  he  has  given  us  an  epic  canvas  peopled  by 
myriads  of  diverse  figures,  the  image  on  the  canvas  is  a cohe- 
sive one,  the  unmistakable  likeness  of  a single  people.  And 
given  the  complexity  of  the  Jewish  people,  their  historical  ex- 
perience and  symbolic  creations,  this  is  indeed  a remarkable 
and  compelling  achievement. 

Ausubel  was  able  to  accomplish  this  because  of  his  convic- 
tion— one  not  very  widely  shared  these  days — that  it  is  pos- 
sible to  draw  a collective  portrait  of  a people.  This 
affirmation  is  based  on  the  belief  that  there  is  a discoverable 
underlying  unity  to  the  historical  experience  not  just  of  the 
Jews  but  of  every  great  people.  Ausubel  harks  back  in  this 
conviction  to  an  older  Romantic  conception  of  the  existence 
of  a “folk  mind.”  The  word  “folk”  here  has  very  little  to  do 
with  notions  of  the  primitive,  the  quaint,  or  the  undeveloped. 




Ausubel  takes  “folk”  as  a designation  for  an  entire  people,  a 
historical  nationality,  like  the  French,  the  Finns,  or  in  this 
case,  the  Jews.  In  this  way  of  thinking  each  people  has  a folk 
mind,  a national  genius,  which  is  a set  of  characteristics  that 
especially  mark  that  group  and  that  remain  constant  through- 
out the  flux  of  historical  change.  In  Ausubel’s  conception  of 
the  folk  mind  there  is  nothing  triumphal  or  chauvinist.  His 
celebration  of  the  passions  and  quirks  of  his  own  people  is 
never  at  the  expense  of  others. 

Folklore  is  the  symbolic  expression  of  the  folk  mind,  and 
since  Ausubel  defines  the  folk  mind  so  broadly,  he  under- 
stands folklore  in  a similarly  catholic  sense.  In  contrast  to  the 
scientific,  anthropological  approach  to  folklore  currently  in 
vogue,  Ausubel  finds  his  sources  across  the  entire  life  of  a 
people.  Whereas  the  detached  ethnologist  respects  as  authen- 
tic only  material  that  can  be  gotten  from  the  oral  testimony 
of  natives  in  exotic  habitats,  Ausubel  draws  on  literary  sources 
as  well  as  oral,  high  culture  as  well  as  popular  culture. 
And  unlike  the  more  analytical  folklorist,  Ausubel  is  actively 
and  sympathetically  engaged  in  his  material,  celebrating  it  as 
he  records  and  collects,  comments,  and  retells.  This  is,  after 
all,  hot  material  from  some  faraway  tribe  but  the  treasures  of 
his  own  people. 

Ausubel’s  ideas  about  the  folk  mind  help  explain  the  ambi- 
tious variety  of  the  sources  for  this  anthology.  His  principal 
sources  include  the  following:  the  legendary  material  from 
the  literature  of  the  Talmud  we  call  Midrash  (second  to  sev- 
enteenth centuries);  medieval  folktales;  collections  of  Hasidic 
narratives  (eighteenth  and  nineteenth  centuries);  retellings  of 
folktales  by  modern  writers;  jokes  and  anecdotes  current  in  a 
variety  of  forms.  The  nature  of  these  sources,  the  cultural 
function  they  perform,  and  the  level  of  society  at  which  they 
operate  are  widely  different.  The  tales  told  by  the  Talmudic 
sages  to  learned  listeners  are  one  thing;  a joke  about  a schnor- 
rer  and  merchant  is  something  else.  Similarly,  we  might 
find  existing  side  by  side  in  this  volume  an  authentic  tale  told 
by  a Hasidic  master  to  his  pious  audience  together  with  the 
conscious  remolding  of  a traditional  tale  by  a modernist 
writer  such  as  Peretz,  who  sought  to  make  a statement  about 
human  nature  to  his  secular  audience.  Ausubel  does  not  give 
us  enough  information  about  his  sources  to  pick  up  such  dis- 
tinctions, and  the  critical  reader  might  rightly  wish  for  more 



This  is  not,  it  should  be  stressed,  carelessness  on  Ausubel’s 
part.  He.  believed  that  the  folk  mind  is  truly  timeless,  so  that 
the  precise  points  at  which  we  dip  into  it  are  unimportant 
relative  to  the  truth  of  the  whole  that  is  illuminated.  One 
does  not  have  to  accept  this  premise  entirely  to  be  transfixed 
by  the  panorama  of  Ausubel’s  vision  and  by  the  dazzle  of  the 
kaleidoscope  of  sources.  The  remarkable  unity  that  emerges 
from  Ausubel’s  disparate  sources  can  perhaps  be  attributed 
not  so  much  to  the  folk  mind  but  to  the  great  tradition  of 
oral  and  literary  creativity  it  draws  from,  an  inheritance  we 
may  call  the  Agadic  Tradition.  In  the  matrix  of  classical 
Judaism  the  Halakhah  is  the  legal  element  that  is  concerned 
with  the  theory  and  practice  of  what  is  required  of  man  in 
his  behavior  in  the  world.  The  Agada  is  the  complementary 
element,  which  describes  the  adventures  of  the  religious  imag- 
ination and  whose  characteristic  mode  is  story  telling.  It  is 
this  second  dimension  that  forms  the  principle  of  selection  for 
Ausubel.  For  although  he  draws  from  a vast  and  varied  array 
of  sources,  he  passes  over  legal  and  philosophical  literature 
and  instead  delves  into  the  wealth  of  a coherent  tradition  of 
Agadic  activity. 

Ausubel  can  be  seen  as  a recreator  of  a tradition.  The  text 
of  A Treasury  of  Jewish  Folklore  is  so  accessible  that  we  are 
hardly  aware  of  how  large  a role  Ausubel  has  played  in  the 
weaving  of  its  fabric.  However,  if  we  stop  to  reflect,  we  have 
to  acknowledge  the  prodigious  industry  and  constant  probity 
that  must  have  gone  into  the  culling  of  this  material  from 
hundreds  of  sources,  as  well  as  the  scholarship  and  erudition 
involved  in  responsible  translation  from  many  languages. 
But  even  if  we  recognize  AusubeFs  competence  in  selection 
and  translation,  there  remains  qualities  we  would  expect 
from  any  good  anthologist.  The  texture  of  A Treasury  of 
Jewish  Folklore  reveals  something  rarer  and  less  tangible:  the 
dimension  of  craft.  The  stories  and  anecdotes  in  this  volume 
often  are  not  simply  translations;  they  are  recastings  and  re- 
tellings of  their  sources.  What  is  involved  here  is  not  a be- 
trayal of  the  originals  but  an  act  of  intellectual  solicitude. 
The  remolding  of  each  tale  represents  a separate  instance  of 
a brokering  between  the  foreign,  antique  idiom  of  the  source 
and  contemporary  norms  of  intelligibility.  Anyone  familiar 
with  Talmudic  literature  in  the  original  knows  that  faithful, 
exact  translations,  no  matter  how  elegant,  still  require  a 
wealth  of  annotation  and  explication  before  we  can  digest 



them  smoothly.  Ausubel  has  done  that  work  for  us.  He  has 
made  thousands  of  decisions  about  shape,  idiom,  locutions, 
details,  endings;  and  all  this  in  such  a way  that  the  tales  fall 
easily  within  our  conventions  of  understanding  as  modem 
readers  of  English,  while  retaining  an  unmistakable  aura  of 
their  origins. 

Although  the  legendary  and  pious  tales  are  told  with  charm 
and  skill,  Ausubel  is  actually  at  his  best  in  the  hundreds  of 
comic  anecdotes  and  jests  that  make  A Treasury  of  Jewish 
Folklore  more  fun  than  its  demure  title  would  suggest.  In 
presenting  the  humorous  material  Ausubel  comes  into  his 
own  as  a raconteur,  for  here  he  need  be  less  concerned  with 
mediating  cultural  distance  than  with  capturing  a moment  of 
verbal  magic.  His  skill  with  timing  and  inflection  together 
with  his  sense  of  economy  and  restraint  is  the  raconteur’s 
equivalent  of  perfect  pitch. 

Yet,  it  is  not  due  simply  to  Ausubel’s  talent  that  the  jokes 
are  what  work  best  in  the  Treasury:  it  is  the  material  itself. 
All  of  the  sententious  wisdom  of  sages  and  saints  seems  in- 
substantial compared  with  the  ability  of  the  jokes  to  commu- 
nicate the  deep  pathos  and  resilience  of  Jewish  life.  The  jokes 
are  paradoxically  and  profoundly  more  serious.  This  quality 
seems  to  epitomize  something  essential  to  the  larger  structure 
of  the  Jewish  imagination.  Take  this  example: 

A Jew  was  walking  on  the  Bismarck  Platz  in  Berlin  when 
unintentionally  he  brushed  against  a Prussian  officer. 

“Swine!”  roared  the  officer. 

“Cohen!”  replied  the  Jew  with  a stiff  bow. 

Now,  it  would  be  difficult  to  imagine  two  persons  between 
whom  there  existed  a greater  gulf  of  power  than  a Prussian 
officer  and  a Jew.  Yet  by  means  of  a clever  retort  the  Jew  for 
a moment  turns  the  situation  around,  and  while  we  know  that 
there  has  been  no  real  diminishment  of  the  officer’s  preroga- 
tives, we  delight  in  this  moment  of  imagined  reversal. 

This,  I believe,  is  the  basic  pattern  for  the  best  jokes  and 
anecdotes  in  A Treasury  of  Jewish  Folklore.  The  initial  situa- 
tion usually  involves  a relationship  of  inequality  and  disad- 
vantage between  two  parties — most  often,  actually,  between 
two  Jews — with  regard  to  power,  money,  honor,  or  respect- 
ability. What  happens  in  the  joke  is  that  the  advantage  is  tem- 
porarily equalized  or  even  reversed  by  a verbal  sleight  of 


XX  i 

hand,  usually  an  audacious  reinterpretation  or  play  on  words. 
At  the  nub  of  the  joke,  therefore,  is  a shift  from  the  reality  of 
the  given  situation,  which  never  really  changes,  to  a plane  of 
language  in  which  the  powerful  can  indeed  be  bested.  The 
jump  from  the  constricting  reality  of  the  world  to  a space  of 
imaginative  freedom  lasts  only  for  the  moment  of  the  telling, 
but  at  the  very  least  it  keeps  alive  in  us  the  capacity  to  imag- 
ine that  the  arrangements  of  the  world  are  not  forever  undis- 



Like  other  children  brought  up  in  an  orthodox  Jewish  envi- 
ronment I was  immersed  in  Jewish  song  and  story  as  soon  as 
I became  aware  of  the  world  around  me.  Years  later,  I dis- 
covered that  the  lore  of  my  people  had  entered  into  my  blood 
stream,  as  it  were,  and  had  become  a part  of  the  cultural  re- 
ality of  my  life.  Who  has  not  had  this  experience?  Melodies 
sung  in  childhood  have  a tendency  to  linger  persistently  in 
the  subconscious  and  the  stories  and  sayings  we  heard  time 
and  again  from  the  lips  of  our  parents  are  never  really  erased 
from  our  memory. 

While  my  main  purpose  in  compiling  this  anthology  was  to 
present  the  spontaneous  folk-creation  of  the  Jewish  people,  I 
was  also  motivated  by  the  desire  to  recapture  the  fading 
memory  of  the  wonder  and  the  beauty  that  had  inspirited  my 
childhood  in  the  Old  World.  And  so  I began  to  gather  all  the 
myths  and  parables,  stories  and  legends,  the  songs  and  the 
wise  sayings  upon  which  I,  and  millions  of  other  Jewish  chil- 
dren throughout  the  many  centuries,  had  been  nurtured. 

But  what  was  my  delight  to  discover  in  the  course  of  the 
work  that  a unified  portrait  was  shaping  itself  in  an  almost 
sculptural  sense  out  of  all  these  materials.  This  portrait  was 
of  one  I knew  intimately,  of  some  one  endowed  with  a well- 
defined  character,  familiar  psychological  traits,  ethical  values 
and  emotional  responses.  And  before  long  I knew  with  cer- 
tainty whose  portrait  it  was — it  was  the  composite  portrait  of 
the  Jewish  people. 

How  could  there  have  emerged  such  a remarkable  unity 
from  all  this  variegated  mass  of  folk-materials?  For  one 
thing,  Jewish  historic  experience  has  been  disturbingly  similar 
in  so  many  ways,  in  every  age  and  in  almost  every  land  of 
the  Diaspora.  Jews  have  never  been  allowed  to  sink  their 
roots  for  long  anywhere;  they  have  been  forced  to  be  ever- 
lasting wanderers  on  the  highways  of  the  world.  They  have 
been  perpetually  faced  with  the  same  kind  of  slanders  and 
persecutions  in  almost  every  country  and  in  every  generation. 
And  their  folklore  naturally  is  but  a faithful  chronicle  of 




these  historic  experiences.  Then  again,  we  cannot  avoid  the 
fact  that  for  three  thousand  years  the  remnants  of  Israel  have 
maintained  their  ethnic-cultural  identity,  which  too  is  an  un- 
paralleled historical  phenomenon. 

Like  children  who  had  no  father  to  give  them  protection, 
no  home  they  could  call  their  own,  they  developed  a feeling 
of  deep  emotional  insecurity  in  the  world.  They  found  com- 
fort in  devotion  to  their  faith  and  their  religious  literature,  of 
which  much  of  Jewish  folklore  is  a significant  part.  For 
sacred  writings,  such  as  the  Talmud  and  Midrash,  are  almost 
inexhaustible  repositories  of  the  legends,  myths,  and  parables 
of  the  Jewish  people.  In  almost  perpetual  study  of  this  litera- 
ture as  a devotional  obligation,  the  Jew  of  every  age  and  ev- 
ery country  absorbed  these  elements  of  folklore  and  entered 
them  into  the  cultural  experiences  of  his  life. 

By  the  humanizing  art  of  the  legend  such  foremost  heroes 
as  Moses,  Jeremiah  and  Hillel,  have  been  transformed  into 
well-loved  ancestors — we  might  say  members  of  the  same 
family.  Even  God  has  lost  his  awesomeness  in  the  folkloristic 
transformation.  “And  nowhere  indeed  has  God  been  rendered 
so  utterly  human,  been  taken  so  closely  to  man’s  bosom  and, 
in  the  embrace,  so  thoroughly  changed  into  an  elder  brother, 
a slightly  older  father,  as  here  in  the  Midrash  . . . God  has 
not  merely  become  a man,  he  has  become  a Jew,  an  elderly 
bearded  Jew.”* 

There  is  no  folklore  that  can  claim  such  a long  and  contin- 
uous history  as  the  Jewish,  that  has  had  such  a vast  range  of 
productivity  in  both  time  and  geography.  It  is  richly  varied 
and  colorful  with  the  imprint  of  the  many  diverse  cultures 
that  Jews  have  assimilated  everywhere  through  the  many  cen- 
turies. Nonetheless,  despite  the  absorption  and  adaptation  of 
non-Jewish  elements  from  without  and  despite  the  conse- 
quences of  more  than  twenty-five  centuries  of  wide  dispersion 
in  almost  every  part  of  the  world,  Jewish  folklore  probably 
possesses  an  over-all  unity  greater  than  that  of  any  other.  It  is 
noteworthy,  for  instance,  that,  while  American  folklore  has 
had  a continuous  three-hundred-year  history  of  creativity  in  a 
unified  geographic  area,  it  nevertheless  can  claim  a lesser  in- 
tegration than  the  folklore  of  the  Jewish  people  with  its 

* Professor  H.  Slonimsky,  On  Reading  the  Midrash.  In  The  Jewish  Insti- 
tute Quarterly,  January,  1928,  p.  3. 



several  thousand  years  of  turbulent  history  in  so  many  parts 
of  the  globe. 

Folldore  is  a vivid  record  of  a people,  palpitating  with  life 
itself,  and  its  greatest  art  is  its  artlessness.  It  is  a true  and  un- 
guarded portrait,  for  where  art  may  be  selective,  may 
conceal,  gloss  over  defects  and  even  prettify,  folk  art  is  al- 
ways revealing,  always  truthful  in  the  sense  that  it  is  a spon- 
taneous expression.  It  is  therefore  three-dimensional  with  the 
sense  of  “life”  and  “people.”  It  proceeds  in  a straight  line  to 
the  significant  and  ignores  the  trivial.  By  juxtaposing  good 
with  evil,  light  with  shadow,  grief  with  laughter,  and  honesty 
with  sham,  it  achieves  the  harmonious  unity  of  opposites  that 
resides  in  objective  truth. 

The  Jewish  people  has  fathered  many  talented  and  pro- 
found sons  and  daughters  but  no  less  talented  and  pro- 
found— in  a somewhat  different  way  perhaps — has  been  the 
people  itself.  Because  it  hides  unpretentiously  behind  its 
anonymous  creation  like  the  unnamed  master-sculptors  of  an- 
cient Egypt,  few  have  learned  to  recognize  it  as  the  creator  of 
significant  culture.  Certainly,  men  of  eminence  could  never 
have  arisen  in  any  of  the  arts  of  civilization  had  it  not  been 
for  the  molding  force  of  the  people’s  mass-genius  which 
serves  to  them  as  the  fertile  soil  to  the  seedling.  The  funda- 
mental lore  of  folklore  in  the  creation  of  culture  is  yet  insuffi- 
ciently recognized  except  by  those  who  have  succeeded  in 
freeing  themselves  of  the  “Great  Man”  theory  of  history  and 
culture  so  eulogized  by  Carlyle  in  Hero  and  Hero-Worship 
and  in  The  Aristocracy  of  Talent.* 

Some  writers  have  expressed  astonishment  at  the  marked 
intellectual  and  sophisticated  character  of  so  much  of  Jewish 
folklore.  But  seen  within  the  context  of  its  social  and  cultural 
history  there  is  nothing  at  all  baffling  in  this.  Jews  became  an 
intellectual  people  not  because  of  any  innate  mental  superior- 
ity over  other  peoples,  but  because  of  the  peculiar  nature  of 
their  history.  They  have  cherished  and  preserved  their  tradi- 
tion of  learning  ever  since  the  Age  of  Ezra  the  Scribe  and  the 
public  teachings  of  the  Men  of  the  Great  Assembly  during 
the  Sixth  Century  b.c.  In  large  measure  this  tradition  was 

• “With  the  modem  trend  of  seeing  the  individual  as  a part  of  the  whole 
social  organism,  folklore  is  becoming  an  auxiliary  science  for  a social  and 
religious  history  as  well  as  an  integral  part  of  the  history  of  literature.” 
— Abraham  Berger,  The  Literature  of  Jewish  Folklore . In  Journal  of  Jewish 
Bibliography,  V.  1.  Nos.  1-2,  1938-39. 



derived  from  the  religious  obligation  of  every  Jew  to  study 
Scripture  ceaselessly,  for  it  must  always  be  kept  in  mind  that 
Judaism  was  cradled  in  a theocracy,  a priest  state.  In  later 
centuries,  this  study  also  embraced  the  Mishna,  the  Talmud 
and  the  Midrash,  of  which  folklore  was  an  integral  part. 

This  activity  was  not  only  unprecedented  in  its  mass  scope 
in  the  intellectual  history  of  mankind,  but,  within  its  limited 
religious  framework,  it  represented  the  most  democratic  phi- 
losophy of  education  in  Antiquity.  This  universal  duty  to 
study  as  a religious  act  broadened  the  base  of  Jewish  culture 
and,  in  consequence,  elevated  it. 

It  was  this  general  and  sustained  intellectual  activity  among 
Jews  that,  in  the  process  of  refinement  and  sensitizing 
through  many  centuries,  led  to  a razor-edged  sharpening  of 
wits,  to  a verbal  ease  of  articulation,  and  to  an  unusual  pre- 
occupation with  abstract  ideas  and  philosophical  speculation. 
In  the  plain  Jew  this  differed  from  that  of  the  scholar  only  in 
extent  and  intensity.  Sometimes  this  virtuosity  led  to  an  intel- 
lectual sterility,  defeated  its  own  avowed  ends.  The  scholar 
so  often  became  entangled  in  his  own  complicated  web  of 
hair-splitting.  This  fruitless  type  of  mental  gymnastics,  even 
in  the  Talmud,  drew  forth  the  ironic  retort  from  an  exasper- 
ated rabbi  in  debate  with  a casuistical  opponent:  “Aren’t  you 
from  Pumbeditha  where  they  draw  an  elephant  through  the 
eye  of  a needle?” 

But  by  and  large,  the  Rabbis  of  old  who  compiled  the  Tal- 
mud and  the  Midrash  were  neither  pedants  nor  closet  schol- 
ars. They  were  down-to-earth  teachers  of  the  people,  robust 
with  the  life-urge  and  endowed  with  good  practical  sense.  In 
their  desire  to  make  their  teaching  intelligible  to  the  people, 
they  drew  with  canny  pedagogy  upon  the  familiar  tales, 
legends,  witticisms  and  sayings  current  among  the  Jews. 
Being  men  of  talent  and  of  considerable  profundity  they  in 
turn  took  fire  from  the  uninhibited  folk-imagination  and 
themselves  adapted  innumerable  folk-stories  and  sayings  which 
they  wove  ingeniously  into  the  fabric  of  their  learned  homi- 
lies and  discussions.  In  their  turn  again  the  common  folk, 
who  revered  as  sacred  these  tales  and  their  source  in  Talmud 
and  Midrash,  adopted  them  and,  in  the  process  of  telling  and 
retelling  them,  embroidered  them  with  their  inexhaustible 
fancy,  invention  and  wisdom.  The  practice  of  employing  the 
old  legends,  parables  and  the  ethical  exempla  of  the  sages  for 
didactic  ends  was  continued  by  the  rabbis  and  preachers  of 



later  days  down  to  our  own  time.  Thus,  like  the  complemen- 
tary interaction  between  the  shuttle  and  the  loom,  the  Jewish 
people  and  their  teachers  together  wove  a tapestry  of  folklore 
of  the  most  exquisite  designs  and  colors. 

What  are  the  salient  features  of  Jewish  folklore  which  dis- 
tinguish it  from  other  bodies  of  folklore? 

To  begin  with,  it  is  most  frequently  of  a poetical  and  intro- 
spective nature.  It  is  philosophical  and  subtle,  pious  and  mor- 
alistic, witty  and  ironic.  But  it  is  almost  always  ethical, 
pointing  a lesson  of  right  conduct,  ceaselessly  instructing,  of- 
ten even  when  it  is  being  entertaining  or  humorous.  To  be 
sure,  other  peoples’  folklore  also  possesses  some  of  these 
characteristics,  but  the  nature  of  their  culture  and  history  led 
them  to  make  other  emphases. 

Wit  and  irony  can  be  regarded  as  the  likely  attributes  of  a 
civilized  mentality.  In  Jewish  life,  as  reflected  in  its  folklore, 
these  traits  have  been  nourished  by  a macerated  national  sen- 
sibility, by  a disenchantment  with  a world  not  of  its  making 
or  choosing.  Jews  have  received  their  tempering  from  an  un- 
flinching realism  learned  for  a high  fee  in  the  school  of  life; 
they  have  always  felt  the  need  of  fortifying  their  spirits  with 
the  armor  of  laughter  against  the  barbs  of  the  world. 

Despite  the  tragedy  of  their  historic  experiences,  Jews  have 
always  been  life-affirming  or  they  could  not  possibly  have 
survived  the  ordeals  they  had  to  go  through  as  a people.  In 
fact,  if  anything,  their  troubles  made  indestructible  optimists 
of  them.  The  therapy  of  gaiety  and  laughter  was  as  necessary 
to  them  as  the  very  air  they  breathed.  The  life-force  within 
them  was  far  too  vital  to  be  dissolved  in  tears  and  perpetual 
mourning.  Neither  persecution,  nor  grief,  nor  the  poverty  of 
their  dank  ghetto-prisons  could  keep  Jews  from  laughing.  But 
their  laughter  had  to  be  something  more  than  gay  frivolity, 
something  more  than  mere  diversion.  It  had  to  be  an  affirma- 
tive and  defiant  answer  to  the  world’s  cruelties.  And  so  within 
Jewish  humor  there  is  a unique  type  of  wit  that  serves,  not 
only  as  a trenchant  commentary  on  life,  but  also  as  a correc- 
tive, as  a mellowing  agent  which  helps  draw  the  string  of 
grief  from  tragedy.  The  mellowing  humor  may  very  well  be 
called  “Jewish  Salt,”  an  indefinable  quality  comparable  to 
“Attic  Salt”  except  for  a distinctive  flavor  of  its  own  which 
helps  establish  the  character  of  Jewish  folklore.  For  this  rea- 
son the  book  begins  with  a touch  of  this  seasoning. 



Many  Jewish  legends  and  folk  tales  are  suffused  with  a 
deep  sadness.  Like  so  many  of  the  Jewish  folk  songs  they  too 
are  keyed  in  a haunting  minor.  But  somehow  this  sadness 
rarely  degenerates  into  despair  or  even  self-pity.  Almost  al- 
ways it  bears  within  it  the  saving-grace  of  catharsis,  of  the 
ennoblement  of  grief  in  the  steadfast  spirit,  of  the  moral  tri- 
umph of  the  righteous  even  in  defeat. 

As  we  have  already  noted,  Jewish  folklore  is  knit  together 
by  a remarkable  unity  of  both  subject  matter  and  world-view 
despite  its  vast  time-place  sweep.  This  cohesion  also  has  been 
due  to  the  fact  that  the  most  significant  tales  were  found  in 
the  Agada  in  the  Talmud  and  in  the  Midrash.  Later  Jewish 
folklore,  to  a very  considerable  extent,  was  merely  poured 
into  the  traditional  matrix  of  form  and  content  established  by 
the  ancient  Rabbinical  folklorists. 

Jewish  folklore  treats  of  Heaven  and  Earth,  of  Paradise 
and  Hell,  of  Good  and  Evil,  of  the  natural  and  the  supernat- 
ural, of  the  spiritual  and  the  material,  of  the  sacred  and  the 
profane.  A large  number  of  legends  and  myths,  derived  from 
their  neighbors  in  Persia  and  Babylonia  among  whom  the 
Jews  lived  for  so  many  centuries  after  the  Captivity,  tell  of 
angels  and  demons — all  mediators  between  God  and  man’s 
destiny  of  which  he  is  the  architect  according  to  the  good  or 
evil  of  his  conduct.  In  hundreds  of  other  tales,  with  the  hu- 
manizing intimacy  of  the  true  folklore  spirit,  there  passes 
through  a procession  of  the  Patriarchs  and  the  Prophets,  of 
the  Jewish  kings  and  heroes,  sages  and  scholars,  saints  and 
sinners,  martyrs  and  renegades,  rationalists  and  mystagogues, 
men  of  faith  and  also  men  of  little  faith.  One  of  the  objec- 
tives of  all  these  tales  is  didactic — to  hold  up  to  the  view  of 
the  Jew  the  inspiring  example  of  his  eminent  forefathers  in 
righteousness.  They  have  still  other  objectives — to  offer  con- 
solation and  hope  to  the  afflicted,  to  reconcile  for  the  simple 
Jew  the  unhappy  destiny  of  his  people  with  his  own  trust  in 
God,  and  also  to  explain  to  him  those  Scriptural  passages  and 
incidents  that  baffle  his  questioning  mind.  About  these 
legends  Tolstoy  wrote  in  the  1880’s:  “They  contain  some- 
thing unendingly  gentle  and  movingly  great,  like  the  rosy 
morning  star  on  a quiet  morning.  The  most  precious  quality 
in  them  is  their  agitation  over  the  eternal  mysteries  of  the  hu- 
man soul.” 



Folklore  is  a continuous  and  unending  process  and  flows 
along  with  the  stream  of  life.  There  has  not  been  yet  suffi- 
cient time  for  the  recent  historic  experiences  of  the  Jewish 
people  to  crystallize  into  folklore.  It  is  perhaps  too  early  for 
the  emergence  of  legend  out  of  the  staggering  tragedy  of  the 
six  million  Jews  murdered  in  the  charnel  houses  of  Hitler. 
And  time  must  elapse  before  the  Maccabean  grandeur  that 
infuses  the  struggle  of  the  Jews  of  Israel  against  the  combined 
might  of  their  enemies  will  kindle  the  folk  imagination  to 
give  it  utterance.  Yet  that  time  will  surely  come,  for  life,  with 
the  deft  fingers  of  a weaver,  tirelessly  draws  the  crimson 
thread  of  human  anguish  and  struggle  into  its  magical  pat- 

In  conclusion,  I would  like  to  add  a personal  note.  The 
years  of  labor  which  have  gone  into  the  preparation  of  this 
work  will  be  more  than  rewarded  if  it  will  reveal  to  the 
Jewish  reader  the  existence  of  the  little  known  cultural 
treasures  of  his  people  and,  in  consequence,  will  fill  him  with 
the  sense  of  human  dignity  and  worth  that  is  his  birthright. 
To  the  Gentile  reader  Jewish  folklore  addresses  itself  with  its 
myriad  implications  because  it  is  but  a colorful  part  of  the 
kaleidoscope  of  universal  culture.  May  it  make  plain  the 
common  humanity  of  all  races  and  nations  and  thus  draw 
them  closer  in  the  bonds  of  brotherhood  and  understanding. 

Major  Sources  of  Jewish  Folklore 

Most  of  the  old  legends  contained  in  this  book  are 
naturally  from  the  Agada  of  the  Talmud  and  the  Midrash. 
But  of  the  character  and  contents  of  these  vast  repositories  of 
folklore  many  people,  Jews  included,  have  but  the  haziest 
idea.  For  instance,  the  French  historian  Bossuet,  who  was  a 
bishop  as  well  as  a famous  savant,  once  appealed  to  the  phi- 
losopher Leibnitz  to  procure  for  him  a translation  of  the  Tal- 
mud by  “Monsieur  Mishna.”  Therefore,  to  those  readers  who 
may  find  themselves  in  the  predicament  of  Bossuet,  it  might 
be  useful  to  explain  in  the  barest  outline  what  the  Mishna, 
the  Talmud  and  the  Midrash  actually  are. 

As  is  well  known,  the  Pentateuch  (the  Five  Books  of 
Moses)  contains  the  Jewish  written  Law,  or  Torah.  In  time, 
beginning  with  the  era  of  the  Scribes  ( Soferim ) who 
succeeded  Ezra,  it  was  found  necessary  to  add  to  the  written 
Law  a second  body  of  Law  consisting  of  traditional  doctrine 


that  had  been  orally  transmitted  through  the  centuries.  The 
Mishna  (repetition  or  doctrine)  constituted  this  Second  Law. 
It  was  compiled  in  Palestine  and  composed  in  Hebrew  by  one 
hundred  and  forty-eight  teacher-scribes  called  Tannaim 
( Mishna  teachers).  It  was  a Code  that  developed  but  slowly, 
taking  almost  five  and  a half  centuries,  from  the  era  of  the 
Scribes  to  its  final  redaction  by  Judah  ha-Nasi  in  the  Third 
Century  a.d. 

However,  the  oral  traditions  contained  in  the  Mishna  were 
found  urgently  in  need  of  interpretation.  In  answer  to  this 
need  emerged  the  Gemara  (doctrine)  or,  as  it  is  more  often 
called,  the  Talmud  (explanation),  as  a commentary  on  the 
text  of  the  Mishna. 

The  Talmud,  which  constitutes  the  Corpus  Juris  of  the 
Jews,  was  created  by  several  hundred  rabbis  who  went  under 
the  collective  name  of  Amoraim  (expounders);  they  regarded 
themselves  as  the  continuators  of  the  Tannaim,  the  architects 
of  the  Mishna.  The  Talmud  is  not  just  one  book  but  a great 
collection  of  many  books;  it  is  not  the  product  of  one  age  but 
of  several  centuries.  With  the  meticulous  care  of  practiced  le- 
gal scholars  the  Amoraim  examined  the  Mishna  sentence  by 
sentence,  carefully  traced  every  source  and  tried  in  cool  ob- 
jective discussion  with  one  another  to  reconcile  the  contradic- 
tions they  encountered  in  the  Mishna  text.  It  was  a rare 
instance  indeed  when  they  attempted  to  lay  down  the  law 
dogmatically — they  merely  gave  their  reasoned  opinions, 
presented  their  views  in  the  course  of  discussion,  the  dissent- 
ing one  side  by  side  with  those  of  the  majority.  The  laws 
that  they  discussed  and  interpreted  touched  on  a vast  number 
of  subjects  concerning  every  minute  circumstance  or  problem 
arising  in  contemporary  experience.  Not  just  religion,  but  phi- 
losophy, hygiene,  ethics  and  other  matters  of  a civil  and  secu- 
lar nature  came  under  their  purview. 

There  are  actually  two  Talmuds — one  which  was  de- 
veloped by  the  Amoraim  in  the  Rabbinical  academies  of  Bab- 
ylonia where  a great  settlement  of  Jews  had  been  established 
during  the  Captivity,  the  other  which  was  created  by  the 
Amoraim  of  Palestine.  The  Babylonian  Talmud  received  its 
final  redaction  in  the  Fifth  Century  a.d.  by  the  Rabbinic  edi- 
tors, the  Saboraim  (ponderers),  who  were  the  successors  to 
the  Amoraim.  The  Jerusalem  Talmud  was  closed  by  the 
Palestinian  Saboraim  a hundred  years  before,  in  a.d.  370.  Of 
the  two  the  Babylonian  Talmud,  which  is  about  three  times 



the  size  of  the  Jerusalem  Talmud,  is  by  far  the  more  impor- 
tant, although  both  are  commentaries  of  the  same  Mishna 
text.  However,  the  Jerusalem  Talmud  is  incomplete.  Out  of 
the  sixty-three  treatises  contained  in  the  Mishna,  it  deals  with 
only  thirty-nine;  it  is  assumed  that  the  rest  were  lost 

Both  Talmuds  consist  of  two  elements.  One  is  called 
Halacha,  which  is  the  juridical  exposition  and  interpretation 
of  the  Law;  the  other  is  called  Agada,  the  ethical  and  poetical 
interpretation  of  Scripture  by  means  of  the  story-telling  art. 
The  sages  of  old  described  the  complementary  relationship 
between  these  two  methods:  “Bread — that  is  Halacha; 
wine — that  is  Agada.  By  bread  alone  we  cannot  live.”  It  is 
from  the  Agada  that  so  many  stories  with  profound  ethical 
meanings  have  been  culled  for  inclusion  in  this  collection. 

Finally,  we  come  to  the  Midrash.  This  is  a body  of  inter- 
pretative literature  which  was  begun  by  the  Tannaim  simulta- 
neously with  their  work  on  the  Mishna,  and  was  continued 
for  many  centuries  by  their  Rabbinic  continuators  until  the 
closing  of  the  great  Jewish  schools  in  Babylonia  in  a.d.  1040. 
A perceptive  scholar  has  given  an  accurate  description  of  its 
contents  and  the  spirit  that  animates  it:  “The  Midrash  is  art 
in  the  interest  of  religion;  but  above  all  it  is  art.  It  is  the  flow- 
ering of  the  art  creative  instinct,  snubbed  and  repressed  else- 
where, which  here  finds  full  freedom  and  scope.  The 
amazingly  fecund  and  vital  principle  which  shoots  forth  and 
blossoms  in  this  endless  garden  is  a repressed  instinct  The 
Jews  were  forbidden  the  plastic  arts,  because  the  Deity  was 
not  to  be  modelled  or  drawn;  and  the  mytho-plastic  urge  gen- 
erally was  frowned  upon.  But  the  myth-creating  phantasy,  the 
mytho-poetic  urge,  banished  and  forbidden  in  the  official 
halls  of  the  religion,  finds  its  outlet  here.  And  so  we  find  this 
starved  power  driven  underground,  emerging  here  in  the 
endless  plenitude,  from  mere  story-telling  and  parable  and 
play  of  fancy  to  images  of  tragic  beauty  and  to  supreme 
flights  of  the  creative  imagination.”* 

During  the  Middle  Ages  it  was  the  Jews  who  served  in 
Christian  Europe  as  the  most  important  intermediaries  for  the 
diffusion  of  the  tales  and  fables  of  the  East,  such  as  the 
Bidpai  and  Barlaam  cycles.  (For  more  on  this  subject  see  the 
introduction  to  animal  tales.)  Nonetheless,  Jews  remained 

* Professor  H.  Slonlmsky,  On  Reading  the  Midrash.  In  The  Jewish  Insti- 
tute Quarterly,  January,  1928,  p.  2. 



skilful  originators  of  tales  in  their  own  right.  There  was,  for 
instance,  the  notable  collection  by  Rabbi  Nissim  of  Kairwan 
(11th  Century).  While  many  of  his  stories  were  adaptations 
from  Agada  and  Midrash,  quite  a number  were  from  other 
Jewish  sources.  Another  celebrated  compilation,  Sefer 
Hasidim  (Book  of  the  Pious),  adapted  for  the  most  part  by 
Rabbi  Judah  Hasid  of  Regensburg  (c.  1200),  consisted  of 
legends  into  which  were  patterned  the  cabalistic  beliefs  and 
fancies  of  medieval  German  Jewry. 

The  invention  of  the  printing  press  by  Gutenberg  marked  a 
great  advance  in  the  democratization  of  learning  in  Europe; 
it  stimulated  a broader  diffusion  of  culture  even  in  the  ghetto. 
Yiddish  compilations  of  folk  tales,  and  also  moralistic  works 
in  which  folk  tales  played  an  illustrative  function,  came  off 
the  printing  presses  in  considerable  numbers  during  the  sec- 
ond half  of  the  Sixteenth  Century.  The  most  widely  read  of 
these  were  the  Teitsch-Chumesh,  Brantspiegel  and  Leb-Tov. 
However,  the  most  popular  of  all  Yiddish  folk  tale  collections 
was  the  Ma’aseh  Buch.  More  than  half  of  its  two  hundred 
and  fifty-four  tales  were  adaptations  of  Agada  and  Midrash 
originals;  many  were  of  medieval  Jewish  vintage;  and  some 
were  even  variants  of  Christian  stories. 

With  the  upsurge  of  the  Cabala  during  the  Fifteenth  and 
Sixteenth  Centuries  it  was  but  natural  that  there  should  have 
originated  a great  number  of  cabalistic  legends  in  which  the 
drama  of  the  miraculous  and  the  demonological  was  fully  ex- 
ploited. Finally,  with  the  advent  of  the  mystical  Hasidic 
movement  during  the  Eighteenth  Century,  a unique  body  of 
legendary  literature  appeared  in  Yiddish  concerning  the  con- 
tinuators  of  the  cabalists — the  wonder-working  Rabbi  Israel 
Baal-Shem,  the  founder  of  Hasidim,  and  his  principal  rab- 
binic disciples.  (For  more  on  this  subject  see  the  introduction 

I wish  to  acknowledge  my  indebtedness  to  Edmund  Fuller 
for  his  sensitive  understanding  and  the  discriminating  taste  he 
brought  to  the  shaping  of  this  volume,  and  to  Bertha  Krantz 
for  the  skilful  and  devoted  hand  with  which  she  piloted  the 
book  through  its  technical  stages. 

I also  wish  to  thank  Dr.  Joshua  Bloch  of  the  New  York 
Public  Library  and  his  assistants:  Marie  Coralnik,  Dora 



Steinglass  and  Fanny  Spivack;  Abraham  Berger  for  gener- 
ously allowing  me  to  draw  from  his  wide  erudition  in  Jewish 
lore;  Mendel  Elkin  and  the  Yiddish  Scientific  Institute;  the  li- 
brary staff  of  the  Jewish  Theological  Seminary;  the  Jacob 
Michael  Jewish  Music  Collection  and  Joseph  Levisohn,  its  li- 
brarian. I also  am  indebted  to  my  friend  and  father-in-law, 
the  late  Morris  Older;  Ethel  Older;  M.  Vaxer;  Hillel  Ausubel; 
Bertha  and  Philip  Shan;  Ruth  Rubin;  Samuel  Feldman,  who 
copied  the  music;  Jacob  Richman,  author  of  Laughs  from 
Jewish  Lore;  and  a great  many  other  individuals  too  numer- 
ous to  mention. 

Finally,  I wish  to  acknowledge  my  deep  indebtedness  to 
my  wife,  Marynn  Older  Ausubel,  who  worked  side  by  side 
with  me  in  gathering  and  preparing  the  vast  amount  of 
materials  from  which  this  volume  has  been  culled;  it  was  her 
enthusiasm  and  perceptive  understanding  that  helped  bring 
this  arduous  work  to  fruition. 




Jewish  Salt 

Jewish  Salt 

Such  Oddsl 

Two  Jews  sat  in  a coffee  house,  discussing  the  fate  of  their 

“How  miserable  is  our  lot,”  said  one.  “Pogroms,  plagues, 
quotas,  discrimination,  Hitler,  and  the  Ku  Klux  Klan  . . . 
Sometimes  I think  we’d  be  better  off  if  we’d  never  been 

“Of  course!”  said  the  other.  “But  who  has  that  much  luck? 
Not  one  in  50,000 . . 

The  Realist 

After  the  smoke  and  thunder  of  the  battle  had  died  down  at 
Austerlitz,  Napoleon  wished  to  reward  a number  of  men  of 
various  nationalities  who  had  fought  like  heroes  that  day. 

“Name  your  wish  and  I will  grant  it  to  you,  my  gallant 
heroes!”  cried  the  Emperor. 

“Restore  Poland!”  cried  a Pole. 

“It  shall  be  done!”  answered  the  Emperor. 

“I’m  a farmer — give  me  land!”  cried  a poor  Slovak. 

“Land  it  will  be,  my  lad.” 

“I  want  a brewery,”  said  a German. 

“Give  him  a brewery!”  ordered  Napoleon. 

Next  it  was  the  turn  of  a Jewish  soldier. 

“Well,  my  lad,  what  shall  it  be?”  asked  the  Emperor,  en- 
couraging him  with  a smile. 

“If  you  please,  Sire,  I would  like  to  have  a nice  schmaltz 
herring,”  murmured  the  Jew,  bashfully. 

“Ma  foil"  exclaimed  the  Emperor,  shrugging  his  shoulders. 
“Give  this  man  a herring!” 

When  the  Emperor  had  left,  the  other  heroes  gathered 
around  the  Jew. 

“What  a fool  you  are!”  they  chided  him.  “Imagine  a man 
can  choose  whatever  he  wants  and  all  he  asks  for  is  a her- 
ring! Is  that  the  way  to  treat  an  Emperor?” . . 

“We’ll  see  who’s  the  fool!”  retorted  the  Jew.  “You’ve  asked 




for  the  independence  of  Poland,  for  a farm,  for  a brewery — 
things  you’ll  never  get  from  the  Emperor.  But  you  see,  I’m  a 
realist.  If  I ask  for  a herring — maybe  I’ll  get  it.” 

Higher  Mathematics 

Two  wise  men  of  Chelm  lay  sweating  in  the  steam  bath  one 
day.  To  drive  away  the  boredom  of  doing  nothing  they  began 
to  discuss  deep  mathematical  problems. 

The  first  one  said,  “If,  for  instance,  it  takes  four  hours  to 
drive  to  Dvinsk  with  one  horse — wouldn’t  it  be  right  to  say 
that  if  I drove  with  two  horses  it  would  only  take  me  two 

“Correct  as  gold,”  answered  the  other  sage,  filled  with  ad- 

“Now,  why  couldn’t  I drive  to  Dvinsk  with  four  horses  so 
I’d  get  there  in  no  time?”  continued  the  mathematician. 

“Why  trouble  to  go  to  Dvinsk  at  all?”  exclaimed  the  other. 
“Just  harness  your  four  horses  and  stay  right  here.” 

Richer  than  Rothschild 

“If  I were  Rothschild,”  said  the  melamed  of  Chelm,  “I’d  be 
richer  than  Rothschild.” 

“How  is  it  possible?”  asked  a fellow-citizen. 

“Naturally,”  answered  the  melamed,  “I’d  do  a litde 
teaching  on  the  side.” 

A Lesson  in  Talmud 

One  day  a country-fellow  came  to  his  rabbi.  “Rabbi,”  he  said, 
in  the  tongue-tied  fashion  of  the  unlettered  in  the  presence  of 
the  learned,  “for  a long  time  I have  been  hearing  of  Talmud. 
It  puzzles  me  not  to  know  what  Talmud  is.  Please  teach  me 
what  is  Talmud.” 

“Talmud?”  The  rabbi  smiled  tolerantly,  as  one  does  to  a 
child.  “You’ll  never  understand  Talmud;  you’re  a peasant.” 

“Oh,  Rabbi,  you  must  teach  me,”  the  fellow  insisted.  “I’ve 
never  asked  you  for  a favor.  This  time  I ask.  Please  teach 
me,  what  is  Talmud.” 

“Very  well,”  said  the  rabbi,  “listen  carefully.  If  two  bur- 
glars enter  a house  by  way  bf  the  chimney,  and  find  them- 
selves in  the  living  room,  one  with  a dirty  face  and  one  with 
a clean  face,  which  one  will  wash?” 



The  peasant  thought  awhile  and  said,  “Naturally,  the  one 
with  the  dirty  face.” 

You  see,”  said  the  rabbi,  “I  told  you  a fanner  couldn’t 
master  Talmud.  The  one  with  the  clean  face  looked  at  the 
one  with  the  dirty  face  and,  assuming  his  own  face  was  also 
dirty,  of  course  he  washed  it,  while  the  one  with  the  dirty 
face,  observing  the  clean  face  of  his  colleague,  naturally  as- 
sumed his  own  was  clean,  and  did  not  wash  it.” 

Again  the  peasant  reflected.  Then,  his  face  brightening, 
said,  “Thank  you.  Rabbi,  thank  you.  Now  I understand  Tal- 

“See,”  said  the  rabbi  wearily.  “It  is  just  as  I said.  You  are 
a peasant!  And  who  but  a peasant  would  think  for  a moment 
that  when  two  burglars  enter  a house  by  way  of  the  chimney, 
only  one  will  have  a dirty  face?” 

Hitting  the  BulVs  Eye 

Once  Rabbi  Elijah,  the  Gaon  of  Vilna,  said  to  his  friend,  the 
Preacher  of  Dubno,  “Tell  me,  Jacob,  how  in  the  world  do 
you  happen  to  find  the  right  parable  to  every  subject?” 

The  Preacher  of  Dubno  answered,  “I  will  explain  to  you 
my  parabolic  method  by  means  of  a parable.  Once  there  was 
a nobleman  who  entered  his  son  in  a military  academy  to 
learn  the  art  of  musketry.  After  five  years  the  son  learned  all 
there  was  to  be  learned  about  shooting  and,  in  proof  of  his 
excellence,  was  awarded  a diploma  and  a gold  medal. 

“Upon  his  way  home  after  graduation  he  halted  at  a vil- 
lage to  rest  his  horses.  In  the  courtyard  he  noticed  on  the 
wall  of  a stable  a number  of  chalk  circles  and  right  in  the 
center  of  each  was  a bullet  hole. 

“The  young  nobleman  regarded  the  circles  with  astonish- 
ment. Who  in  the  world  could  have  been  the  wonderful 
marksman  whose  aim  was  so  unerringly  true?  In  what  mili- 
tary academy  could  he  have  studied  and  what  kind  of  medals 
had  he  received  for  his  marksmanship! 

“After  considerable  inquiry  he  found  the  sharpshooter.  To 
his  amazement  it  was  a small  Jewish  boy,  barefoot  and  in  tat- 

“ ‘Who  taught  you  to  shoot  so  well?’  the  young  nobleman 
asked  him. 

“The  boy  explained,  ‘First  I shoot  at  the  wall.  Then  I take 
a piece  of  chalk  and  draw  circles  around  the  holes.’ 



“I  do  the  same  thing,”  concluded  the  Preacher  of  Dubno 
with  a smile.  “I  don’t  look  for  an  appropriate  parable  to  fit 
any  particular  subject  but,  on  the  contrary,  whenever  I hear  a 
good  parable  or  a witty  story  I store  it  in  my  mind.  Sooner  or 
later,  I find  for  it  the  right  subject  for  pointing  a moral.” 

Lost  and  Found 

The  old  rabbi  had  left  the  room  for  a moment,  then  returned 
to  his  studies,  only  to  find  his  eye-glasses  missing.  Perhaps 
they  were  between  the  leaves  of  his  book?  No.  . . . Maybe 
they  were  somewhere  on  the  desk?  No.  . . . Surely  they  were 
in  the  room.  No. . . . 

So,  in  the  ancient  sing-song,  with  many  a gesture  appropri- 
ate to  Talmudic  disputation,  he  began: 

“Where  are  my  glasses?  . . . 

“Let  us  assume  they  were  taken  by  someone.  They  were 
taken  either  by  someone  who  needs  glasses,  or  by  someone 
who  doesn’t  need  glasses.  If  it  was  someone  who  needs 
glasses,  he  has  glasses;  and  if  it  was  someone  who  doesn’t 
need  glasses,  then  why  should  he  take  them? 

“Very  well.  Suppose  we  assume  they  were  taken  by  some- 
one who  planned  to  sell  them  for  gain.  Either  he  sells  them  to 
one  who  needs  glasses,  or  to  one  who  doesn’t  need  glasses. 
But  one  who  needs  glasses  has  glasses,  and  one  who  doesn’t 
heed  them,  surely  doesn’t  want  to  buy  them.  ...  So  much 
for  that. 

“Therefore  . . . this  is  a problem  involving  one  who  needs 
glasses  and  has  glasses,  one  who  either  took  someone  else’s 
because  he  lost  his  own,  or  who  absentmindedly  pushed  his 
own  up  from  his  nose  to  his  forehead,  and  promptly  forgot 
all  about  them! 

“For  instance  . ..  . me!"  And,  with  a triumphant  sweep  of 
thumb  to  forehead,  signalizing  the  end  of  his  analysis,  the 
rabbi  recovered  his  property. 

“Praised  be  the  Lord,  I am  trained  in  our  ancient  manner 
of  reasoning,”  he  murmured.  “Otherwise  I would  never  have 
found  them!” 

So  What? 

A young  boy  approached  his  father,  saying,  “Please,  father, 
may  I have  an  increase  in  my  allowance?” 



The  old  man  stroked  his  beard  reflectively.  “And  if  you 
have  an  increase  in  your  allowance,  so  what?” 

“Then  I’d  be  able  to  go  to  night  school.” 

“And  suppose  you  go  to  night  school.  So  what?” 

“Then  I could  get  a better  job.” 

“Suppose  you  get  a better  job.  So  what?” 

“Then  I could  dress  better  and  go  places.” 

“And  suppose  you  dress  better  and  go  places.  So  what?” 

“Why,  I might  meet  a beautiful  girl.” 

“All  right.  You  might  meet  a beautiful  girl.  So  what?” 

“I’d  get  married.” 

“So,  you’d  get  married.  So  what?” 

“Why,  papa,  then  I’d  be  happy l” 

“So,  you’re  happy.  So  what?  . . .” 

Why  Only  One  Adam 71* 

Why  did  God  create  only  one  Adam  and  not  many  at  a 

He  did  this  to  demonstrate  that  one  man  in  himself  is  an 
entire  universe.  Also  He  wished  to  teach  mankind  that  he 
who  kills  one  human  being  is  as  guilty  as  if  he  had  destroyed 
the  entire  world.  Similarly,  he  who  saves  the  life  of  one  single 
human  being  is  as  worthy  as  if  he  had  saved  all  of  humanity. 

God  created  only  one  man  so  that  people  should  not  try  to 
feel  superior  to  one  another  and  boast  of  their  lineage  in  this 
wise:  “I  am  descended  from  a more  distinguished  Adam  than 

He  also  did  this  so  that  the  heathen  should  not  be  able  to 
say  that,  since  many  men  had  been  created  at  the  same  time, 
it  was  conclusive  proof  that  there  was  more  than  one  God. 

Lastly,  He  did  this  in  order  to  establish  His  own  power  and 
glory.  When  a maker  of  coins  does  his  work  he  uses  only  one 
mould  and  all  the  coins  emerge  alike.  But  the  King  of  Kings, 
blessed  be  His  name,  has  created  all  mankind  in  the  mould  of 
Adam,  and  even  so  no  man  is  identical  to  another.  For  this 
reason  each  person  must  respect  himself  and  say  with  dig- 

“God  created  the  world  on  my  account.  Therefore  let  me 
not  lose  eternal  life  because  of  some  vain  passion!” 

* Numbered  reference  notes  begin  on  page  485. 



His  Fault 3 

I once  saw  a man  with  a long  beard  who  was  riding  upon  an 
ass  which  he  was  beating.  He  said  to  him,  “Oh  cursed  beast! 
If  you  did  not  wish  to  be  ridden  why  did  you  become  an 

It  Was  Obvious8 

A Talmudic  scholar  from  Marmaresch  was  on  his  way 
home  from  a visit  to  Budapest.  Opposite  him  in  the  railway 
carriage  sat  another  Jew,  dressed  in  modem  fashion  and 
smoking  a cigar.  When  the  conductor  came  around  to  collect 
the  tickets  the  scholar  noticed  that  his  neighbor  opposite  was 
also  on  his  way  to  Marmaresch. 

This  seemed  very  odd  to  him. 

“Who  can  it  be,  and  why  is  he  going  to  Marmaresch?”  he 

As  it  would  not  be  polite  to  ask  outright  he  tried  to  figure 
it  out  for  himself. 

“Now,  let  me  see,”  he  mused.  “He  is  a modem  Jew,  well 
dressed,  and  he  smokes  a cigar.  Whom  could  a man  of  this 
type  be  visiting  in  Marmaresch?  Possibly  he’s  on  his  way  to 
our  town  doctor’s  wedding.  But  no,  that  can’t  be!  That’s  two 
weeks  off.  Certainly  this  kind  of  man  wouldn’t  twiddle  his 
thumbs  in  our  town  for  two  weeks! 

“Why  then  is  he  on  his  way  to  Marmaresch?  Perhaps  he’s 
courting  a woman  there?  But  who  could  it  be?  Now  let  me 
see.  Moses  Goldman’s  daughter  Esther?  Yes,  definitely,  it’s 
she  and  nobody  else  . . . 1 But  now  that  I think  of  it  that 
couldn’t  be!  She’s  too  old — he  wouldn’t  have  her,  under  any 
circumstances!  Maybe  it’s  Haikeh  Wasservogel?  Phooey! 
She’s  so  ugly!  Who  then?  Could  it  be  Leah,  the  money-lend- 
er’s daughter?  N — no!  What  a match  for  such  a nice  man! 
Who  then?  There  aren’t  any  more  marriageable  girls  in  Mar- 
maresch. That’s  settled  then,  he’s  not  going  courting. 

“What  then  brings  him? 

“Wait,  I’ve  got  it!  It’s  about  Mottel  Kohn’s  bankruptcy 
case!  But  what  connection  can  he  have  with  that?  Could  it  be 
that  he  is  one  of  his  creditors?  Hardly!  Just  look  at  him  sit- 
ting there  so  calmly,  reading  his  newspaper  and  smiling  to 
himself.  Anybody  can  see  nothing  worries  him!  No,  he’s  not 
a creditor.  But  I’ll  bet  he  has  something  to  do  with  the  bank- 
ruptcy! Now  what  could  it  be? 



“Wait  a minute,  I think  I’ve  got  it.  Mottel  Kohn  must  have 
corresponded  with  a lawyer  from  Budapest  about  his  bank- 
ruptcy. But  that  swindler  Mottel  certainly  wouldn’t  confide 
his  business  secrets  to  a stranger!  So  it  stands  to  reason  that 
the  lawyer  must  be  a member  of  the  family. 

“Now  who  could  it  be?  Could  it  be  his  sister  Shprinzah’s 
son?  No,  that’s  impossible.  She  got  married  twenty-six  years 
ago — I remember  it  very  well  because  the  wedding  took  place 
in  the  green  synagogue.  And  this  man  here  looks  at  least 

“A  funny  thing!  Who  could  it  be,  after  all  ...  ? Wait  a 
minute!  It’s  as  clear  as  day!  This  is  his  nephew,  his  brother 
Hayyim’s  son,  because  Hayyim  Kohn  got  married  thirty- 
seven  years  and  two  months  ago  in  the  stone  synagogue  near 
the  market  place.  Yes,  that’s  who  he  is! 

“In  a nutshell — he  is  Lawyer  Kohn  from  Budapest.  But  a 
lawyer  from  Budapest  surely  must  have  the  title  ‘Doctor’!  So, 
he  is  Doctor  Kohn  from  Budapest,  no?  But  wait  a minute!  A 
lawyer  from  Budapest  who  calls  himself  ‘Doctor’  won’t  call 
himself  ‘Kohn’!  Anybody  knows  that.  It’s  certain  that  he  has 
changed  his  name  into  Hungarian.  Now,  what  kind  of  a 
name  could  he  have  made  out  of  Kohn?  Kovacs!  Yes,  that’s 
it — Kovacs!  In  short,  this  is  Doctor  Kovacs  from  Budapest!” 

Eager  to  start  a conversation  the  scholar  turned  to  his  trav- 
elling companion  and  asked,  “Doctor  Kovacs,  do  you  mind  if 
I open  the  window?” 

“Not  at  all,”  answered  the  other.  “But  tell  me,  how  do  you 
know  that  I am  Doctor  Kovacs?” 

“It  was  obvious,”  replied  the  scholar. 

He  Had  Him  Coming  and  Going 

A poor  shopkeeper  listened  raptly  to  the  rabbi’s  sermon  on 
that  Sabbath  day  in  the  synagogue.  The  rabbi  preached,  “He 
who  is  poor  in  this  life  will  be  rich  in  the  world  to  come;  he 
who  is  rich  here,  by  God’s  decree,  will  be  poor  in  the  next 
world,  for  all  men  are  equally  God’s  children  and  he  is  just 
to  them  all.” 

Several  days  later  the  poor  shopkeeper  went  to  see  the 

“Rabbi,”  he  asked  anxiously,  “do  you  really  believe  that 
those  who  are  poor  in  this  world  will  be  rich  in  the  next?” 

“No  doubt  about  it!”  emphatically  answered  the  rabbi. 


“You  know  I’m  a poor  shopkeeper — do  you  mean  to  say 
I’ll  be  rich  in  the  world  to  come?” 

“Of  course!” 

Overjoyed,  the  poor  shopkeeper  cried,  “In  that  case,  Rabbi, 
lend  me  a hundred  rubles.  When  I collect  my  riches  in  the 
next  world  I’ll  give  them  back  to  you.” 

Without  a word,  the  rabbi  counted  out  one  hundred  shiny 
silver  rubles.  The  poor  merchant  could  not  believe  his  own 
eyes.  As  he  stretched  out  his  hand  to  gather  in  the  money,  the 
rabbi  stopped  him  and  asked,  “What  do  you  plan  to  do  with 
your  money,  my  friend?” 

“Buy  a hew  stock  of  merchandise.” 

“Do  you  expect  to  make  money  on  it?” 

“It’ll  sell  like  Channukah  pancakes!” 

“In  that  case,”  said  the  rabbi,  gathering  up  the  money  him- 
self, “I  can’t  give  you  the  hundred  rubles.  If  you  get  rich  here 
you’ll  be  poor  over  there.  So  how  in  the  world  do  you  expect 
to  return  the  loan?” 

The  Fine  Art  of  Fanning 

For  a full  hour  Mrs.  Gutman  from  Suffolk  Street  handled  ev- 
ery fan  on  the  pushcart,  feeling  them,  smelling  them,  weigh- 
ing them,  trying  to  decide  which  one  to  buy. 

“I’ll  take  this  penny  fan,”  she  finally  said,  giving  the  dis- 
gusted peddler  her  coin. 

She  then  went  home  with  her  purchase. 

The  following  morning,  bright  and  early,  the  peddler  saw 
her  standing  big  as  life  before  him. 

“What  is  it  now?”  he  asked. 

Mutely  she  held  up  the  broken  remnants  of  the  fan  she 
had  purchased  the  day  before. 

“What’s  the  matter?”  he  asked. 

“I  want  my  money  back!”  she  demanded. 

“How  much  did  you  pay?” 

“A  penny.” 

“And  how  did  you  use  it?” 

“What  kind  of  a foolish  question  is  that?  Naturally  I 
waved  it  in  front  of  my  face  from  side  to  side.” 

“Is  that  what  you  do  with  a penny  fan,  Mrs.  Gutman,  eh?” 
cried  the  peddler,  outraged.  “That’s  what  you  do  with  a five 
cents  fan!  With  a penny  fan  you  hold  the  fan  still  and  wave 
your  head!” 



For  Honor 

A stranger  came  to  town.  He  stopped  the  first  Jew  in  the 
market-place  and  asked  him,  “Can  you  please  tell  me  where 
Reb  Yankel,  the  warden  of  the  synagogue,  lives?” 

“Oh,”  said  the  man,  “you  probably  mean  Reb  Yankel,  the 
Stutterer,  whose  father  is  Reb  Avremel  ‘Eczema.’  He  lives 
further  down  near  the  church.” 

When  the  stranger  reached  the  church  he  asked  a passerby, 
“Can  you  please  tell  me  where  Reb  Yankel  lives?” 

“Oh,  you  mean  Reb  Yankel  with  the  hernia,  the  wife 
beater?”  answered  the  passerby.  “He’s  buried  three  wives  al- 
ready. You’ll  find  him  over  there.” 

The  stranger  went  on  to  where  he  was  directed,  but,  to 
make  sure,  he  asked  a shopkeeper. 

“Can  you  please  tell  me  where  Reb  Yankel  lives?” 

“Oh,  Reb  Yankel!”  answered  the  shopkeeper.  “You  mean 
Reb  Y&hkel-Goniff,  who  goes  into  bankruptcy  every  other 
year!  There  he  stands — over  there!” 

The  stranger  approached  Reb  Yankel  and,  after  introduc- 
ing himself,  asked  him,  “Tell  me,  Reb  Yankel,  what  on  earth 
do  you  get  out  of  being  warden  in  this  town?” 

“Nothing!  Not  even  a groschen!” 

“Then  why  do  you  do  it?” 

“What  a question  to  ask!  I do  it  for  the  honor!” 

No  Target 

To  a rabbinical  school  in  Old  Russia  the  military  came  in 
search  of  recruits.  The  entire  student  body  was  drafted. 

In  camp,  the  students  amazed  their  new  masters  by  their 
marksmanship  on  the  rifle  range.  Accordingly,  when  war 
broke  out,  the  Yeshiva  youths  were  ordered  en  masse  into  the 
front  lines. 

Shortly  after  the  contingent  arrived  an  attack  began.  Far  in 
the  distance,  in  No  Man’s  Land,  an  advancing  horde  of  Ger- 
mans appeared.  The  Czarist  officers  called  out,  “Ready  . . . 
aim . . . fire!” 

But  no  fire  was  forthcoming. 

“Fire!”  yelled  the  officers.  “Didn’t  you  hear?  Fire,  you  idi- 
ots, firel” 

Still  nothing  happened. 

Beside  himself  with  rage,  the  commanding  officer  de- 
manded, “Why  don’t  you  fire?” 



One  of  the  youths  mildly  answered,  “Can’t  you  see  . . . 
there  are  people  in  the  way.  Somebody  might  get  hurtl” 

Pain  and  Pleasure 

A Jewish  father  took  his  little  boy  to  the  bath  for  the  first 
time.  When  they  jumped  into  the  pool  the  little  boy  began  to 
shiver  with  cold  and  cried,  “Oy,  papa,  oyl” 

His  father  then  led  him  out  of  the  pool,  rubbed  him  down 
with  a towel  and  dressed  him. 

“Ah-h,  papa,  ah-hl”  purred  the  little  fellow,  tingling  with 
pleasant  warmth. 

“Isaac,”  said  the  father  thoughtfully,  “do  you  want  to 
know  the  difference  between  a cold  bath  and  a sin?  When 
you  jump  into  a cold  pool  you  first  yell  ‘Oy!’  and  then  you 
say  ‘Ah-h.’  But  when  you  commit  a sin  you  first  say  ‘Ah-h,’ 
and  then  you  yell  ‘oy!’  ” 

The  Rabbi’s  Nourishment 

A village  Jew  was  asked,  “How  can  your  rabbi  survive  on 
the  small  salary  you’re  paying  him?” 

“Our  rabbi  would  have  died  of  hunger  a long  time  ago.  It’s 
just  his  luck  that  on  account  of  piety  he  has  decided  to  fast 
every  Monday  and  Thursday.  That  sustains  him.” 


Yossel  and  Mendel  were  partners  in  a small  village  inn.  One 
day,  having  scraped  together  a few  rubles,  they  drove  to  town 
to  buy  a keg  of  whiskey. 

On  the  way  back  the  weather  became  cold  and  blustering 
and  the  two  partners  were  teased  by  the  desire  to  take  a 
drink  of  whiskey.  But  to  do  so  became  a serious  problem. 
Had  they  not  solemnly  promised  each  other  when  they  had 
placed  the  keg  on  the  wagon  not  to  touch  a drop  of  it?  Their 
entire  livelihood  for  the  week  depended  upon  it. 

Now  Yossel  was  a resourceful  man.  He  looked  into  his 
pockets  and  found  a five-kopek  piece,  so  he  said  to  Mendel, 
“Here  is  a five-kopek  piece.  Sell  me  a drink  of  whiskey  from 
your  half  of  the  keg.” 

Mendel,  being  a businessman,  answered,  “Since  you  have 
cash  I have  to  sell  you  a drink.” 

So  he  poured  him  a little  glassful. . . . 



No  sooner  had  Yossel  downed  the  drink  than  he  became 
warm  and  cheerful.  Mendel’s  nose,  on  the  other  hand,  got 
bluer  from  the  cold.  How  he  envied  that  rascal  Yossel  for 
his  luck  in  having  the  five-kopek  piece! 

But  suddenly  he  felt  the  coin  in  his  pocket.  After  all,  the 
coin  is  mine  now,  he  said  to  himself.  Why  can’t  I buy  a drink 
from  him  now?  So  he  said  to  his  partner,  “Yossel,  here  is  a 
five-kopek  piece.  Pour  me  a drink  from  your  share  of  the 

Yossel,  being  a businessman,  said,  “Cash  is  cash!” 

And  he  poured  Mendel  a drink  and  took  back  his  five-ko- 
pek piece. 

In  this  fashion  Mendel  and  Yossel  kept  on  buying  a drink 
from  each  other  with  the  same  five-kopek  piece.  By  the  time 
they  reached  the  inn  they  were  thoroughly  drunk. 

“What  a miracle!”  cried  Yossel.  “Imagine,  an  entire  keg  of 
whiskey  sold  for  one  five-kopek  piece!” 

He  Ran  for  His  Health 

It  was  in  the  days  of  Czar  Nicholas  II.  Two  Jews  were  walk- 
ing along  a boulevard  in  Moscow.  One  had  a residence  per- 
mit, the  other  didn’t.  Suddenly  a policeman  appeared. 

“Quick — run!”  whispered  the  one  without  the  permit. 
“When  the  policeman  sees  you  run  he  will  think  you  have  no 
permit,  so  he  will  run  after  you.  This  will  give  me  a chance 
to  get  away,  and  it  won’t  hurt  you  any  because  you  can  show 
him  your  permit.” 

So  the  Jew  with  the  permit  started  to  run.  As  soon  as  the 
policeman  saw  him  do  so  he  went  in  hot  pursuit.  After  a few 
moments  he  caught  up  with  him. 

“Ahah!”  gloated  the  policeman.  “So  you  have  no  permit!” 

“No  permit!  What  makes  you  think  I have  no  permit?” 
asked  the  Jew,  showing  it  to  him. 

The  policeman  looked  bewildered. 

“Why  then  did  you  run  away  when  you  saw  me?” 

“My  doctor  told  me  always  to  run  after  taking  a physic.” 

“But  didn’t  you  see  me  running  after  you?” 

“Sure,  I did.  But  I thought  your  doctor  had  given  you  the 
same  advice!” 




For  two  and  a half  years  the  rival  Talmudic  schools  of  Sham- 
mai  and  of  Hillel  debated  the  question  but  they  could  not 
resolve  it. 

The  adherents  of  Shammai  argued  that  it  would  have  been 
far  better  for  man  had  he  never  been  created.  The  followers 
of  Hillel  maintained  that  it  was  good  that  man  had  been 

Finally,  both  schools  concluded  their  controversy  on  a 
compromise:  that  it  would  have  been  far  better  for  man  had 
he  never  been  created,  but,  since  he  is  already  here  on  earth, 
it  is  his  obligation  to  make  the  best  of  it  and  live  uprightly. 

Truth  in  Gay  Clothes 

The  Preacher  of  Dubno,  Jacob  Krantz,  was  once  asked  why 
the  parable  has  such  persuasive  power  over  people.  The 
Preacher  replied,  “I  will  explain  this  by  means  of  a parable. 

“It  happened  once  that  Truth  walked  about  the  streets  as 
naked  as  his  mother  bore  him.  Naturally,  people  were  scan- 
dalized and  wouldn’t  let  him  into  their  houses.  Whoever  saw 
him  got  frightened  and  ran  away. 

“And  so  as  Truth  wandered  through  the  streets  brooding 
over  his  troubles  he  met  Parable.  Parable  was  gaily  decked 
out  in  fine  clothes  and  was  a sight  to  see.  He  asked,  ‘Tell  me, 
what  is  the  meaning  of  all  this?  Why  do  you  walk  about 
naked  and  looking  so  woebegone?’ 

‘Truth  shook  his  head  sadly  and  replied,  ‘Everything  is  go- 
ing downhill  with  me,  brother.  I’ve  gotten  so  old  and  decrepit 
that  everybody  avoids  me.’ 

“ ‘What  you’re  saying  makes  no  sense,’  said  Parable. 
“People  are  not  giving  you  a wide  berth  because  you  are  old. 
Take  me,  for  instance,  I am  no  younger  than  you.  Nonethe- 
less, the  older  I get  the  more  attractive  people  find  me.  Just 
let  me  confide  a secret  to  you  about  people.  They  don’t  like 
things  plain  and  bare  but  dressed  up  prettily  and  a little  artifi- 
cial. I’ll  tell  you  what.  I will  lend  you  some  fine  clothes  like 
mine  and  you’ll  soon  see  how  people  will  take  to  you.’ 

‘Truth  followed  this  advice  and  decked  himself  out  in  Par- 
able’s gay  clothes.  And  lo  and  behold!  People  no  longer 
shunned  him  but  welcomed  him  heartily.  Since  that  time 
Truth  and  Parable  are  to  be  seen  as  inseparable  companions, 
esteemed  and  loved  by  all.” 


What  Is  Greatness ?® 


Once  there  was  a man  of  great  learning,  versed  in  every 
branch  of  knowledge.  In  addition,  he  had  a beautiful  voice 
and  played  on  the  violin  like  a master.  One  day  he  fell  sick 
and  the  doctors  advised  him  to  move  to  a warm  climate.  This 
he  did,  and  settled  in  a small  town  among  ordinary  people  of 
little  education. 

As  is  customary,  they  asked  him,  “What  is  your  calling?” 

“I  do  cupping.” 

Afterwards,  when  they  were  alone,  his  wife  said  to  him,  “I 
can’t  understand  how  a great  scholar  like  you,  with  so  many 
accomplishments,  should  have  mentioned  cupping  as  the  one 
thing  you  know  how  to  do!  What  kind  of  honor  or  profit  do 
you  expect  from  it?” 

“The  people  of  this  town,”  explained  her  husband,  “are 
poor  people  with  simple  needs.  Were  I to  recite  to  them  my 
important  accomplishments  they  simply  wouldn’t  know  how 
to  value  them,  nor  would  they  know  what  to  do  with  them. 
They  would  only  look  upon  me  as  a superfluous  man  who 
could  be  of  no  earthly  use  to  them.  But,  ah,  how  different 
with  a man  who  can  do  cupping!  To  them  he  is  a very  im- 
portant and  useful  person.  They  will  have  great  respect  for 
me,  I assure  you.” 

The  Modest  Saint 

A disciple  once  was  boasting  rapturously  before  strangers 
about  his  rabbi: 

“My  rabbi,  long  life  to  him!  He  fasts  every  single  day  ex- 
cept, of  course,  on  the  Sabbath  day  and  on  holidays.” 

“What  a lie!”  mocked  a cynic.  “I  myself  have  seen  your 
rabbi  eating  on  weekdays!” 

“What  do  you  know  about  my  rabbi?”  the  faithful  disciple 
snorted  disdainfully.  “My  rabbi  is  a saint  and  very  modest  in 
his  piety.  If  he  eats  it  is  only  to  hide  from  others  the  fact  that 
he  is  fasting!” 

The  Poor  Are  Willing 

The  rabbi  had  prayed  long  and  fervently. 

“And  what  have  you  prayed  for  today?”  asked  his  wife. 

“My  prayer  is  that  the  rich  should  give  bigger  alms  to  the 
poor,”  answered  the  rabbi. 


“Do  you  think  God  has  heard  your  prayer?”  his  wife 

“I’m  sure  He  has  heard  at  least  half  of  it,”  replied  the 
rabbi.  "The  poor  have  agreed  to  accept.” 

There  Are  Miracles  and  Miracles 

A Hasid  had  heard  so  much  of  the  sanctity  of  a certain  rabbi 
that  he  journeyed  all  the  way  from  his  village  to  the  town 
where  the  great  rabbi  lived. 

“What  miracles  has  your  rabbi  performed?”  inquired  the 
visiting  Hasid  of  one  of  the  rabbi’s  disciples. 

“There  are  miracles  and  miracles,”  replied  the  disciple. 
‘Tor  instance,  the  people  of  your  town  would  regard  it  as  a 
miracle  if  God  should  do  your  rabbi’s  bidding.  We,  on  the 
other  hand,  regard  it  as  a miracle  that  our  rabbi  does  God’s 

The  Expert 

When  you  tell  a joke  to  a Frenchman  he  laughs  three  times: 
once  when  you  tell  it  to  him,  the  second  time  when  you  ex- 
plain it,  and  the  third  time  when  he  understands  it — for  the 
Frenchman  loves  to  laugh. 

When  you  tell  a joke  to  ap  Englishman  he  laughs  twice: 
once  when  you  tell  it  to  him  and  again  when  you  explain 
it — but  understand  it  he  never  can,  for  he’s  too  stuffy. 

When  you  tell  a joke  to  a German  he  laughs  only  once: 
when  you  tell  it  to  him.  First  of  all,  he  won’t  let  you  explain 
it  to  him  because  he’s  so  arrogant.  Secondly,  even  if  he  did 
ask  you  to  explain  it  he  wouldn’t  understand  because  he  has 
no  sense  of  humor. 

When  you  tell  a story  to  a Jew — before  even  you’ve  had  a 
chance  to  finish  he  interrupts  you  impatiently.  First  of  all,  he 
has  heard  it  before!  Secondly,  what  business  have  you  telling 
a joke  when  you  don’t  know  how?  In  the  end,  he  decides  to 
tell  you  the  story  himself,  but  in  a much  better  version  than 

No  Loan l 

Two  chance  acquaintances,  both  recent  arrivals  from  Poland, 
met  on  Delancey  Street  in  New  York’s  East  Side. 

“Hello!  How’s  business?” 



“All  right" 

“In  that  case,  will  you  lend  me  five  dollars?” 

“Why  should  I lend  you  five  dollars?  I hardly  know  you!” 
“A  funny  thing!  In  my  town  in  the  old  country  people 
wouldn’t  lend  me  any  money  because  they  knew  me,  and  in 
this  country  they  won’t  lend  any  because  they  don’t  know 

A Quick  Prayer 

Once,  after  prayer  in  the  synagogue,  the  rabbi  asked  Hershel 
Ostropolier,  “How  is  it  you  pray  so  fast?  It’s  a disgrace!  Why 
does  it  take  me  twice  as  long  to  say  my  prayers?” 

“Who  can  compare  with  you,  Rabbi?”  answered  Hershel. 
“You,  Rabbi,  have,  may  no  evil  eye  fall  on  you,  a lot  of  gold 
and  silver,  a fine  house,  four  horses  and  a carriage,  and 
money  in  the  bank.  It  takes  time  to  go  over  all  these  matters 
with  God  when  you  pray  to  him  to  preserve  them  for  you. 
Now  take  me,  on  the  other  hand,  what  have  I got?  Only  a 
shrewish  wife,  eight  children  and  a flea-bitten  goat.  In  my 
prayer  to  God,  all  I have  to  say  is:  ‘Wife,  children, 
goat!’ — and  I’m  through!” 

Schnapps  Wisdom 

The  old  shammes  began  to  lose  his  hearing.  The  doctor, 
whom  he  consulted,  told  him  that  too  much  alcohol  was 
making  him  deaf. 

“You  mustn’t  drink  anymore!”  he  rebuked  him. 

For  one  interminable  month  the  old  shammes  scrupulously 
avoided  liquor  and  his  hearing  gradually  returned.  But  sud- 
denly he  was  tempted  and  took  to  the  bitter  drop  again.  This 
time  he  became  deaf  as  a door-post  and  used  an  earhom. 

Once  more  he  came  to  consult  the  doctor. 

“Didn’t  I tell  you  not  to  drink  any  schnappsT’  roared  the 
doctor  into  his  earhom. 

The  old  shammes  shrugged  his  shoulders  wearily. 

“Sure  you  told  me,  and  I did  exactly  as  you  told  me,”  he 
answered.  “But,  believe  me,  doctor,  nothing  I heard  was 
worth  one  good  schnappsl" 

He  Should  Have  Taken  More  Time 

The  rabbi  ordered  a pair  of  new  pants  for  the  Passover  holi- 
days from  the  village  tailor.  The  tailor,  who  was  very  unreli- 


able,  took  a long  time  finishing  the  job.  The  rabbi  was  afraid 
that  he  would  not  have  the  garment  ready  for  the  holidays. 

On  the  day  before  Passover  the  tailor  came  running  all  out 
of  breath  to  deliver  the  pants. 

The  rabbi  examined  his  new  garment  with  a critical  eye. 

“Thank  you  for  bringing  my  pants  on  time,”  he  said.  “But 
tell  me,  my  friend,  if  it  took  God  only  six  days  to  create  our 
vast  and  complicated  world,  why  did  it  have  to  take  you  six 
weeks  to  make  this  simple  pair  of  pants?” 

“But,  Rabbi!”  murmured  the  tailor  triumphantly,  “just 
look  at  the  mess  God  made,  and  then  look  at  this  beautiful 
pair  of  pants!” 

It  Pays  to  Be  Ignorant 

A poor  luftmensch  came  to  New  York  from  Kovno.  He  had 
neither  trade  nor  calling  and,  when  he  found  that  the  streets 
of  America  were  not  lined  with  gold  as  he  had  been  told  in 
the  old  country,  he  became  a peddler  of  needles,  pins,  and 
hooks  and  eyes.  Life  was  hard,  insults  were  many,  and  the 
profits  were  small.  So  he  kept  his  eyes  open  for  something 
better.  When  he  heard  that  a shammes  was  wanted  in  a 
synagogue  on  Attorney  Street  he  hurried  to  apply  for  the 

“Can  you  read  and  write  English?”  asked  the  president. 

“No,”  answered  the  peddler. 

“Sorry,  mister,”  replied  the  president.  “In  America  a 
shammes  has  got  to  know  how  to  read  and  write.  New  York 
is  not  Boiberik,  you  know.” 

So  the  poor  man  sighed  and  went  sadly  away. 

But  in  the  course  of  time  he  began  to  prosper.  He  turned 
to  real  estate  and  amassed  a fortune. 

One  day,  when  he  needed  a quarter  of  a million  dollars  to 
finance  a real  estate  venture,  he  went  to  his  banker  and  asked 
for  a loan.  He  got  it  instantly. 

“Write  your  own  check,”  said  the  president  of  the  bank 
flatteringly,  handing  him  his  pen. 

“I — I can’t  write  at  all,”  stammered  the  realtor  in  embar- 
rassment. “I’ve  only  learned  to  sign  my  name.” 

“Tsk-tsk,  how  wonderful!”  exclaimed  the  banker.  “If  you 
have  accomplished  so  much  without  knowing  how  to  read  or 
write,  imagine  what  you  would  have  been  today  if  you  did 
know  how!” 



‘Sure!”  muttered  the  realtor*  “I  would  have  been  the 
shammes  of  the  Attorney  Street  Synagogue!” 

Equally  Logical 

A group  of  Nazis  surrounded  an  elderly  Berlin  Jew  and  de- 
manded of  him,  “Tell  us,  Jew,  who  caused  the  war?” 

The  little  Jew  was  no  fool.  “The  Jews,”  he  said,  then 
added,  “and  the  bicycle  riders.” 

The  Nazis  were  puzzled.  “Why  the  bicycle  riders?” 

“Why  the  Jews?”  answered  the  little  old  man. 

The  Life  of  a Jew t 

Ivan  Serafimovitch,  the  driver,  was  taking  his  Jewish  pas- 
senger, Shmul  the  melamed,  from  Boryslav  to  Drohobycz. 
From  the  other  end,  from  Drohobycz,  Mikhail  Stepanovitch 
was  driving  Moishe  the  shammes,  to  Boryslav. 

When  Ivan  and  Mikhail  met  on  the  road,  each  going  in  the 
opposite  direction,  they  drew  up  their  carts  and  exchanged  a 
pleasant  good-morning. 

“I  see,  Mikhail  Stepanovitch,”  sneered  Ivan,  “that  you  have 
that  horsefaced  Jew  Moshka  for  a passenger.” 

“What’s  the  matter?  Don’t  you  like  him?”  Mikhail  snapped 
back.  “He’s  nicer  than  that  scarecrow  of  yours,  Shmul.” 

“I  want  to  serve  notice  on  you,  Mikhail  Stepanovitch,” 
threatened  Ivan,  “that  no  pot-bellied  sot  like  you  can  abuse 
my  passenger  and  get  away  with  it.” 

“Just  look  who’s  talking,  you  goggle-eyed  pig!”  snorted 
Mikhail.  “One  more  word  from  you  and  I’ll  give  it  to  your 
Shmul  in  the  snout!” 

Just  try  and  do  it!”  challenged  Ivan,  defiantly. 

Without  a word,  Mikhail  jumped  off  his  cart  and  crossed 
to  the  other  side  of  the  road.  Climbing  into  Ivan’s  cart  he 
punched  Shmul  in  the  nose. 

When  Ivan  saw  that  his  passenger’s  face  was  covered  with 
blood,  he  was  incensed  and  began  to  tremble  with  rage. 

How  dare  you  hit  my  Shmul!  I won’t  let  you  get  away 
with  it!”  he  shouted.  “Since  you  hit  my  Shmulka  I’m  going  to 
hit  your  Moshka!” 

He  wasn  t at  all  lazy  and  got  out  of  the  cart,  crossed  the 
road  to  Mikhail’s  cart  and  let  fly  with  his  fist  into  Moshka’s 


When  Ivan  saw  Moshka’s  eye  swell  up,  he  was  speechless 
with  rage. 

“With  God  and  the  Czar  as  my  witnesses,  I warn  you, 
Mikhail  Stepanovitch — this  is  the  limit!” 

And,  so  saying,  he  fell  upon  Shmul,  the  melamed,  and 
pounded  him  within  an  inch  of  his  life. 

“Never  fear,”  shrilled  Mikhail.  “I’ll  match  you  in  every- 
thing anytime.  I’ll  turn  your  Moshka  into  pulp  for  what 
you’ve  done  to  my  Shmulka!” 

A man  of  his  word,  Mikhail  fell  upon  Moshka  and 
knocked  him  unconscious. 

For  a moment  Ivan  Serafimovitch  and  Mikhail  Stepano- 
vitch glared  at  each  other  with  a deadly  hatred.  Then  each 
spat  out  contemptuously,  mounted  his  cart  and  rattled  away. 


It  happened  in  a Russian  town  in  the  days  of  the  Czar.  A 
party  of  convicts  was  being  lead  to  prison.  It  included  three 
Jews.  As  they  shuffled  through  the  streets  loaded  with  chains 
some  Jewish  women  began  to  commiserate  loudly  with  them. 

“Why  are  they  taking  you?”  they  mournfully  asked  one 
Jewish  convict. 

“It’s  on  account  of  my  residence  permit,”  he  answered  with 
a sigh. 

Hearing  this,  the  women  wailed,  “Oy,  nebich!  What  a 
wrong!  and  just  for  a mere  residence  permit! 

“And  why  are  they  punishing  you?”  they  asked  the  second 

“It’s  because  I didn’t  want  to  be  a soldier  in  the  army  of 
that  Haman,  Czar  Nicolai!” 

“Oy,  nebich!”  wailed  the  women  even  more  loudly.  “What 
a shame — what  cruelty!  And  just  because  he  didn’t  wish  to 
serve  that  dog  of  dogs,  that  anti-Semite!” 

Then  the  third  Jewish  convict,  a muscular  fellow  with 
squint  eyes  and  a scar  on  his  face,  passed  by. 

“Tell  us — why  are  they  taking  you?”  the  women  inquired. 
“Who,  me?”  he  asked  piteously.  “I  am  nebich  a goniff.” 

The  Modest  Rabbi 

The  wonder-working  tzaddik  seemed -fast  asleep.  Nearby  sat 
his  worshipful  disciples,  carrying  on  a whispered  conversation 
with  bated  breath  about  the  holy  man’s  unparalleled  virtues. 



“What  piety!”  exclaimed  one  disciple  with  rapture.  “There 
isn’t  another  like  him  in  all  Poland!” 

Who  can  compare  with  him  in  charity?”  murmured  an- 
other ecstatically.  “He  gives  alms  with  an  open  hand.” 

“And  what  a sweet  temper!  Has  anyone  ever  seen  him  get 
excited?”  whispered  another  with  shining  eyes. 

“Ai!  What  learning  he’s  got!”  chanted  another.  “He’s  a sec- 
ond Rashi!” 

At  that  the  disciples  fell  silent.  Whereupon  the  rabbi  slowly 
opened  one  eye  and  regarded  them  with  an  injured  ex- 

“And  about  my  modesty  you  say  nothing?”  he  asked 

The  Secret  of  Power* 

The  waters  were  rising  until  they  almost  reached  the  Throne 
of  Glory.  Thereupon  the  Almighty  cried  out:  “Be  still,  O 

Then  the  waters  became  vainglorious  and  boasted:  “We 
are  the  mightiest  of  all  creation — let  us  flood  the  earth!” 

At  this  God  grew  wrathful  and  rebuked  the  waters:  “Do 
not  boast  of  your  strength,  ye  vain  braggarts!  I will  send 
upon  you  the  sands  and  they  will  raise  up  a barrier  against 

When  the  waters  saw  the  sand  and  of  what  tiny  grains  it 
consisted  they  began  to  mock:  “How  can  such  tiny  grains  as 
you  stand  up  against  us?  Our  smallest  wave  will  sweep  over 

When  the  grains  of  sand  heard  this  they  were  frightened. 
But  their  leader  comforted  them:  “Do  not  fear,  brothers! 
True  enough,  we  are  tiny  and  every  one  of  us  by  himself  is 
insignificant.  The  wind  can  carry  us  to  all  the  ends  of  the 
earth,  if  we  all  only  remain  united,  then  the  waters  will 
see  what  kind  of  power  we  have!” 

When  the  little  grains  of  sand  heard  these  words  of  com- 
fort they  came  flying  from  all  the  comers  of  the  earth  and 
lay  down  one  on  top  of  the  other  and  against  each  other 
upon  the  shores  of  the  seas.  They  rose  up  in  mounds,  in  hills, 
and  in  mountains,  and  formed  a huge  barrier  against  the 
waters.  And  when  the  waters  saw  how  the  great  army  of  the 



grains  of  sand  stood  united  they  became  frightened  and  re- 

Circumcisional  Evidence 

A young  Talmudic  scholar  left  Minsk  and  went  to  America. 

After  many  years  he  returned  to  the  old  country.  His  aged 
mother  could  hardly  recognize  him.  He  was  dressed  in  the 
very  latest  fashion. 

“Where  is  your  beard?”  his  mother  asked,  aghast. 

“Nobody  wears  a beard  in  America.” 

“But  at  least  you  keep  the  Sabbath?” 

“In  America  almost  everybody  works  on  the  Sabbath.” 

The  old  mother  sighed. 

“And  how  is  it  with  the  food?”  she  asked  hopefully. 

“Ah,  mama,”  answered  the  son,  apologetically,  “it’s  too 
much  trouble  to  be  kosher  in  America.” 

The  old  mother  hesitated.  Then,  in  a confidential  voice,  she 
whispered,  “Tell  your  old  mother,  son — are  you  still  circum- 

The  Sled  Story 

The  snow  was  beautiful,  but  Mendel  felt  that  each  snowflake 
was  a dagger  thrust  into  his  heart. 

“Everything  happens  to  me!”  he  moaned.  “Just  when  I get 
my  home  fixed  up  okay,  the  landlord  tells  me  the  building  is 
coming  down.  I gotta  move!  I slave  and  I slave  and  at  last  I 
find  a place  around  the  comer.  How  shall  I move?  I struggle 
and  I straggle  and  I get  everything  arranged  for  moving  to- 
morrow. And  now  it  snows!  And  what  a snow!  Everything  is 
upset.  Woe  is  me!” 

It  was  truly  a dark,  dark  night  for  Mendel.  Shaking  his 
head,  he  undressed  wearily  and  climbed  into  bed,  but  he 
couldn’t  get  settled.  “Such  troubles,  what’ll  I do?”  He  twisted 
and  turned  restlessly.  “What  is  there  to  do?”  He  twisted  and 
turned  again  and  this  time  a thought  struck  him. 

“I  know!  I’ll  borrow  Goldberg’s  sled.  It’s  simple.  I’ll  pile 
the  stuff  on  it  and  one  trip — two  trips — ten  trips.  It’s  done. 
Wonderful.  Okay.  Thank  God.”  He  turned  and  settled  back 
comfortably.  He  was  just  about  dozing  off  when  another 
thought  struck  him. 



What  if  Goldberg  won’t  lend  his  sled? 

“Nonsense!  Why  shouldn’t  he  lend  his  sled?  Of  course  he 
will.  Forget  it!” 

What  if  Goldberg  won’t  lend  his  sled? 

“Why  not?  What  am  I going  to  do  to  it?  Can  you  imagine 
that — Goldberg  not  willing  to  lend  me  his  sled?  Oh!  The 
scoundrel!  A plague  on  him!  What  a nerve!  Not  to  lend  me 
his  sled!  No!  No!  It  can’t  be.  Of  course  he’ll  lend  it  to  me.” 

He  turned  around  and  settled  himself  for  sleep. 

Goldberg  won’t  lend  his  sled! 

“Goldberg  not  lend  his  sled?  It’s  unthinkable.  After  what  I 
did  for  him!  Who  got  him  his  first  job?  Who  showed  him  the 
ropes?  Where  did  he  get  his  meals  when  his  wife  was  sick 
that  time?  I even  introduced  him  to  his  wife.  And  wasn’t  I his 
best  man?  Didn’t  I sign  the  paper  for  him  for  the  Morris 
Plan?  When  he  had  the  trouble  that  time  didn’t  I give  him 
the  money  out  of  my  own  pocket?  And  now  he  wouldn’t  lend 
me  his  lousy  two-dollar  sled!  That’s  too  much.  I won’t  stand 
for  it.  Why!  Why ” 

He  scrambled  out  of  bed,  pulled  on  his  trousers,  thrust  his 
coat  around  his  shoulders,  dashed  out  into  the  street,  rah  to 
Goldberg’s  house,  and  started  jabbing  crazily  at  Goldberg’s 
doorbell,  muttering  the  while,  “The  stinker — the  low-life — the 
no-good — ” until  finally  the  sleepy  Goldberg  came  to  the 

“Goldberg,”  shouted  Mendel,  “Goldberg,  you  no-good,  you 
ingrate,  you  loafer!  You  know  what  you  can  do  with  your 
rattle-trap  sled?  You  and  your  sled  can  go  to  hell!  Good — 

A Rabbi  for  a Day 

The  famous  Preacher  of  Dubno  was  once  journeying  from 
one  town  to  another  delivering  his  learned  sermons.  Wherever 
he  went  he  was  received  with  enthusiasm  and  accorded  the 
greatest  honors.  His  driver,  who  accompanied  him  on  this 
tour,  was  very  much  impressed  by  all  this  welcome. 

One  day,  as  they  were  on  the  road,  the  driver  said,  “Rabbi, 
I have  a great  favor  to  ask  of  you.  Wherever  we  go  people 
heap  honors  on  you.  Although  I’m  only  an  ignorant  driver  I’d 
like  to  know  how  it  feels  to  receive  so  much  attention.  Would 
you  mind  if  we  were  to  exchange  clothes  for  one  day?  Then 


they’ll  think  I am  the  great  preacher  and  you  the  driver,  so 
they’ll  honor  me  instead!” 

Now  the  Preacher  of  Dubno  was  a man  of  the  people  and 
a merry  soul,  but  he  saw  the  pitfalls  awaiting  his  driver  in 
such  an  arrangement. 

“Suppose  I agreed — what  then?  You  know  the  rabbi’s 
clothes  don’t  make  a rabbi!  What  would  you  do  for  learning? 
If  they  were  to  ask  you  to  explain  some  difficult  passage  in 
the  Law  you’d  only  make  a fool  of  yourself,  wouldn’t  you?” 

“Don’t  you  worry,  Rabbi — I am  willing  to  take  that 

“In  that  case,”  said  the  preacher,  “here  are  my  clothes.” 

And  the  two  men  undressed  and  exchanged  clothes  as  well 
as  their  callings. 

As  they  entered  the  town  all  the  Jewish  inhabitants  turned 
out  to  greet  the  great  preacher.  They  conducted  him  into  the 
synagogue  while  the  assumed  driver  followed  discreetly  at  a 

Each  man  came  up  to  the  “rabbi”  to  shake  hands  and  to 
say  the  customary:  “ Sholom  Aleichem,  learned  Rabbi!” 

The  “rabbi”  was  thrilled  with  his  reception.  He  sat  down  in 
the  seat  of  honor  surrounded  by  all  the  scholars  and  digni- 
taries of  the  town.  In  the  meantime  the  preacher  from  his 
comer  kept  his  merry  eyes  on  the  driver  to  see  what  would 

“Learned  Rabbi,”  suddenly  asked  a local  scholar,  “would 
you  be  good  enough  to  explain  to  us  this  passage  in  the  Law 
we  don’t  understand?” 

The  preacher  in  his  comer  chuckled,  for  the  passage  was 
indeed  a difficult  one. 

“Now  he’s  sunk!”  he  said  to  himself. 

With  knitted  brows  the  “rabbi”  peered  into  the  sacred  book 
placed  before  him,  although  he  could  not  understand  one 
word.  Then,  impatiently  pushing  it  away  from  him,  he 
addressed  himself  sarcastically  to  the  learned  men  of  the 
town,  “A  fine  lot  of  scholars  you  are!  Is  this  the  most  difficult 
question  you  could  ask  me?  Why,  this  passage  is  so  simple 
even  my  driver  could  explain  it  to  you!” 

Then  he  called  to  the  Preacher  of  Dubno:  “Driver,  come 
here  for  a moment  and  explain  the  Law  to  these  ‘scholars’!” 


All  Right 


There  was  once  a rabbi  who  was  so  open-minded  that  he 
could  see  every  side  of  a question.  One  day  a man  came  to 
him  with  the  request  that  he  grant  him  a divorce. 

“What  do  you  hold  against  your  wife?”  asked  the  rabbi 

The  man  went  into  a lengthy  recital  of  his  complaints. 

“You  are  right,”  he  agreed  when  the  man  finished. 

Then  the  rabbi  turned  to  the  woman. 

“Now  let  us  hear  your  story,”  he  urged. 

And  the  woman  in  her  turn  began  to  tell  of  the  cruel  mis- 
treatment she  had  suffered  at  her  husband’s  hands. 

The  rabbi  listened  with  obvious  distress. 

“You  are  right,”  he  said  with  conviction  when  she  finished. 
At  this  the  rabbi’s  wife,  who  was  present,  exclaimed,  “How 
can  this  be?  Surely,  both  of  them  couldn’t  be  right!” 

The  rabbi  knitted  his  brows  and  reflected. 

“You’re  right,  tool”  he  agreed. 

Why  the  Hair  on  the  Head  Turns  Gray  Before  the  Beard1 

The  Czar  once  went  on  a journey.  On  the  way  he  met  a poor 
Jewish  farmer  who  was  cultivating  his  field.  The  Czar  saw 
that  the  farmer’s  hair  was  gray  while  his  beard  was  black.  At 
this  he  was  filled  with  wonder. 

“Do  explain  this  mystery  to  me,”  the  Czar  asked  him. 
“Why  is  the  hair  on  your  head  gray  and  your  beard  black?” 

“My  beard  didn’t  start  growing  until  after  I was  Bar- 
Mitzvah,”  replied  the  Jew.  “Consequently,  since  the  hair  on 
my  head  is  many  years  older  than  the  hair  in  my  beard,  it 
turned  gray  long  before.” 

“How  clever  of  you!”  cried  the  Czar  with  admiration. 
“Promise  me,  on  your  word  of  honor,  never  to  repeat  this  ex- 
planation to  anyone.  I will  allow  you  to  reveal  the  secret  only 
after  you  have  seen  me  one  hundred  times.” 

The  Czar  then  continued  on  his  journey. 

Upon  his  return  home  he  assembled  all  his  ministers,  wise 
men  and  counsellors. 

“I  will  put  to  you  a very  puzzling  question,”  he  told  them. 
“See  if  you  can  answer  it.” 

“Speak,  O King!”  cried  the  wise  men. 


“Why  is  it,”  asked  the  Czar,  “that  the  hair  on  the  head  be- 
comes gray  long  before  the  hair  in  the  beard  does?” 

The  wise  men  remained  mute  with  astonishment.  They  did 
not  know  what  to  answer. 

‘Take  av  month’s  time  to  think  it  over,”  said  the  Czar. 
“Then  come  back  to  me  with  your  answer.” 

The  wise  men  went  away  and  devoted  themselves  single- 
mindedly  to  the  solution  of  the  problem  the  Czar  had  put  to 

As  the  month  was  nearing  its  end  and  still  they  had  not 
found  an  answer  they  were  filled  with  gloom.  But  they  found 
a straw  of  hope  to  clutch  at  when  one  of  the  ministers  re- 
called that  on  the  day  the  Czar  had  put  the  puzzling  question 
to  them  he  had  come  back  from  a journey  outside  the  capital. 
So  he  undertook  to  track  the  matter  down  to  its  source. 

The  minister  followed  the  route  the  Czar  had  taken  and  he 
chanced  upon  the  same  poor  Jewish  farmer  with  whom  the 
Czar  had  spoken.  He  recognized  him  by  the  fact  that  the  hair 
on  his  head  was  gray  and  the  hair  in  his  beard  was  black. 

“What  is  the  explanation  for  this  strange  fact?”  he  asked 
the  Jew. 

The  Jewish  farmer  answered,  “Alas,  I’m  not  allowed  to 
give  you  the  answer!” 

“I’ll  pay  you  well  if  you’ll  reveal  your  secret  to  me,” 
coaxed  the  king’s  counsellor. 

The  poor  Jew  hesitated.  Then  he  said,  “I’m  a poor  man. 
I’m  desperately  in  need  of  some  money.  If  you  will  pay  me  a 
hundred  silver  rubles  I’ll  reveal  to  you  my  secret.” 

After  he  got  the  hundred  silver  rubles,  he  gave  him  the  an- 
swer he  had  given  to  the  Czar. 

The  minister  then  returned  to  St.  Petersburg  and  gave  the 
Czar  the  answer.  But  the  Czar  understood  immediately  how 
he  had  gotten  the  answer.  So  he  sent  for  the  Jew. 

“Do  you  know  what  punishment  you  deserve  for  breaking 
your  promise  to  me?”  cried  the  Czar,  angrily.  “Didn’t  I ask 
you  to  keep  your  answer  a secret?” 

“Indeed,  you  did!”  replied  the  Jew.  “But  you  must  also  re- 
call that  you  gave  me  permission  to  talk  about  it  after  I had 
seen  you  a hundred  times.” 

“Insolent  fellow!”  cried  the  Czar.  “How  dare  you  lie  so 
brazenly  to  me!  You  very  well  know  I only  saw  you  once!’’ 

“I’ve  told  you  the  truth!”  persisted  the  Jew.  And  he  drew 
out  of  a bag  a hundred  silver  rubles. 



“See  for  yourself,”  said  he.  “On  every  one  of  these  rubles 
is  graven  your  image.  And,  having  looked  upon  them  all,  I 
have  seen  you  one  hundred  times.  Was  I wrong  in  giving 
your  minister  the  answer?” 

“What  a clever  man!”  exclaimed  the  Czar  with  rapture. 
“What  you  deserve  is  a reward,  not  punishment!  Remain  with 
me  here  in  my  palace  so  that  I may  always  have  the  benefit 
of  your  counsel.” 

And  so  the  poor  Jewish  farmer  lived  with  the  Czar  in  his 
palace  in  St.  Petersburg,  and  was  the  first  among  his  coun- 
sellors. The  Czar  never  made  a decision  without  consulting 
him  first,  and,  wherever  he  went,  the  Jew  went  along  with 

The  Way  Anti-Semites  Reason 8 

As  the  Emperor  Hadrian  was  being  carried  through  the 
streets  of  Rome  a Jew  passed  by. 

“Long  life  to  you,  O Emperor!”  the  Jew  greeted  him. 

“Who  are  you?”  asked  the  Emperor. 

“I’m  a Jew.” 

“How  dare  you,  a Jew,  greet  me!”  Hadrian  raged.  “Chop 
his  head  off!”  he  ordered  his  soldiers. 

Another  Jew,  who  chanced  to  pass  by  just  then  and  saw 
what  had  happened  to  the  first  Jew,  decided  not  to  greet  the 

“Who  are  you?”  Hadrian  demanded. 

“I’m  a Jew.” 

“How  dare  you,  a Jew,  pass  me  by  without  greeting  me?” 
raged  Hadrian.  “Chop  his  head  off!”  he  ordered  his  soldiers. 
The  Emperor’s  counsellors  were  filled  with  astonishment. 

“O  Emperor,  we  cannot  grasp  the  meaning  of  your  ac- 
tion,” they  said.  “If  you  had  the  first  Jew  decapitated  because 
he  greeted  you,  why  did  you  do  the  same  thing  to  the  second 
Jew  because  he  did  not  greet  you?” 

“Are  you  trying  to  teach  me  how  to  handle  my  enemies?” 
retorted  the  Emperor. 

The  Relativity  of  Distance 

Three  weary  Jewish  refugees  stood  before  the  Paris  repre- 
sentative of  the  Jewish  Joint  Distribution  Committee. 

“Where  are  you  all  going?”  he  asked  them. 



“I’m  on  my  way  to  Rome,”  said  the  first. 

“London  is  my  destination,”  said  the  second. 

“My  plan  is  to  go  to  South  Africa,”  said  the  third. 

“South  Africa?  Why  so  far?”  the  agent  asked  wonderingly. 
Far?  Far  from  where?”  wistfully  countered  the  refugee. 




“Who  is  a hero?’”  rhetorically  asks  a sage  in  the  Talmud. 

“He  who  becomes  master  over  his  passions”  is  his  own  answer. 

The  pursuit  of  virtue  as  a heroic  quest  is  a fundamental  tradi- 
tion in  Jewish  life  and  lore.  It  is  the  seal  of  the  Jews’  ethical  indi- 
viduality as  a people.  It  is  their  moral  justification  in  their  own 
eyes.  For  countless  generations  they  have  been  encouraged  by 
their  leaders  and  teachers  to  pattern  their  lives  in  this  religious- 
social  ideal  in  both  thought  and  action.  Their  folklore  reflects  this 
with  dazzling  clarity.  The  righteous,  the  wise  man,  is  the  hero, 
not  the  warrior  who  sheds  human  blood. 

This  extraordinary  attitude  was  induced  by  the  peculiar  histor- 
ic experiences  of  the  Jews  and  was  conditioned  by  more  than 
twenty-five  hundred  years  of  this  mode  of  living,  thinking  and 
feeling.  “Sons  of  the  Compassionate” — is  what  Jews  proverbially 
call  themselves.  In  their  traditional  view  the  moral  and  physical 
powers  are  everlastingly  opposed  to  each  other.  For  precisely  that 
reason  the  warrior-hero,  so  overwhelmingly  adulated  by  other 
peoples,  was  largely  neglected  by  them.  The  folklorists  of  the 
Midrash  almost  gloss  over  the  exploits  of  Samson  against  the 
Philistines.  They  glow  with  more  genuine  excitement  over  David, 
the  sweet  singer  of  Zion,  than  over  David,  the  slayer  of  the  giant 
Goliath,  or  David  the  triumphant  warrior-king.  To  be  sure  there 
are  exceptions — such  as  the  heroic  deeds  of  the  Maccabees  and 
Bar  Kochba.  But  their  celebration  in  Jewish  legend  does  not  rest 
on  their  warlike  exploits  or  their  feats  of  bravery  alone.  It  is  pri- 
marily because  these  men  were  the  inspired  leaders  of  their 
people  in  its  struggle  for  liberty. 

The  characteristic  attitude  toward  the  warrior  is  quaintly 
described  in  Jewish  lore  by  the  contrast  made  in  the  characters  of 
the  Patriarch  Jacob  and  his  brother  Esau.  The  latter,  sumamed 
“the  Wicked”  in  Jewish  folklore,  is  portrayed  as  a fierce  warrior 
and  hunter,  preoccupied  with  fighting  and  the  chase.  Jacob,  on 
the  other  hand,  is  depicted  as  a gentle  scholar,  always  found  in 
the  House  of  Study  in  pursuit  of  divine  instruction.  The  same  at- 
titude is  expressed  in  the  amusing  medieval  engraving  found  in 
many  editions  of  the  Haggadah,  the  liturgy  of  the  Seder  which  is 
the  home  service  of  Passover  Eve.  The  picture  presents  four  types 
of  questioners:  the  sage,  the  wicked  man,  the  fool  and  the  idiot. 
The  sage  is  lovingly  portrayed  as  a scholar  in  the  eloquent  atti- 
tude of  expounding  the  1 Torah.  The  wicked  man,  on  the  other 



hand,  is  represented  as  a fierce  knight  in  armor  running  with  the 
spear  in  hand. 

This  does  not  by  any  means  suggest  that  Jews  were  like  the 
Buddhists,  unalterably  opposed  to  war.  Their  struggles  for  their 
national  freedom,  beginning  with  the  Egyptian  bondage,  refutes 
this  idea.  Jews  were  always  opposed  to  war  and  violence  on 
moral  and  humanitarian  grounds,  except  when  they  fought  in 
self-defense  or  for  the  preservation  of  their  country  and  faith. 
Then  they  fought  as  did  only  few  other  peoples  in  history — with 
valor  and  an  utter  disregard  for  their  lives.  For  instance,  during 
the  two-year  siege  of  Jerusalem  by  Titus,  more  than  a million 
Jews  perished  resisting  the  hated  enemy,  an  event  hardly  paral- 
leled in  the  wars  of  Antiquity.  But  fighting  as  an  end  in  itself,  or 
to  acquire  ill-gotten  gains,  was  considered  wicked  and  anti-social 
beginning  with  the  era  of  the  canonical  Prophets. 

In  place  of  the  strong  men  and  the  warrior  heroes  of  other 
peoples  the  Jews  substituted  tzaddikim,  saintly  and  righteous  men. 
But  these  were  far  from  being  insipid  in  their  gentleness,  hang- 
dog in  their  piety,  or  submissive  because  of  their  abhorrence  of 
violence.  They  were  in  reality  men  who  stood  up  with  dignity  for 
their  beliefs,  and  often  sacrificed  their  lives  in  defense  of  them.  In 
medieval,  and  in  later  folklore  as  well,  these  tzaddikim  took  on 
the  sublimated  character  of  the  hero-knights  of  chivalry.  In  bat- 
tling against  the  brute  violence  of  their  enemies  they  let  their  vir- 
tue be  their  sword  and  their  Torah-leaming,  their  shield.  When 
the  rabbi-knight  was  obliged  to  defend  his  religion  and  his  people 
in  disputations  with  Christian  theologians  before  great  throngs 
who  treated  him  with  scorn  and  mockery,  he  had  to  endure  an  in- 
finitely more  hazardous  ordeal  than  that  required  of  the  Christian 
knight  who  went  jousting  cap-a-pie  against  friendly  rivals  at  the 
tourneys  of  chivalry.  The  Jew  was  rarely  the  victor  in  this  un- 
equal contest  and  the  direst  misfortune  fell  upon  entire  communi- 
ties of  his  brethren  because  of  it.  And  yet,  strange  to  relate,  he 
remained  a hero  in  the  eyes  of  the  people,  for  he  had  fought 
without  fear  or  compromise  as  their  champion,  and  with  the  only 
weapons  sanctioned  by  their  morality — wisdom  and  truth. 

Those  legends  and  tales,  dealing  with  cabalists  and  Hasidic 
rabbis,  endow  their  tzaddikim  with  invincible  wonder-working 
powers.  Many  of  them,  like  the  knights  of  chivalry,  sallied  forth 
into  the  world  to  pursue  quests  of  high  valor.  They  were  not  ac- 
companied by  armed  esquires,  but  by  worshipful  disciples.  Their 
aim  was  not  to  rescue  beautiful  maidens  held  captive  by  wicked 
knights  or  to  win  a king’s  ransom  by  feats  of  arms.  They  went 
forth  to  battle  against  the  power  of  evil,  to  redress  wrongs,  and 
to  protect  their  people  against  threatening  dangers.  By  the  super- 
natural power  of  their  virtue,  and  sometimes  with  the  magical  aid 
of  the  Shem-hamforesh,  the  secret  name  of  God  (as  in  the  case 



of  Joseph  della  Reyna),  they  fought  and  triumphed  over  the 
wicked,  even  over  the  Angel  of  Death  and  Satan  and  over  all  his 
hosts  of  darkness.  It  even  happened  that  these  tzaddikim  rose  up 
to  question  God  himself.  This  they  did,  not  out  of  blasphemous 
intent  or  ah  arrogant  spirit,  but  with  the  flame  of  truth  and  com- 
passion burning  within  them.  We  have  only  to  turn  to  the  Kad- 
dish  of  Rabbi  Levi-Yitzchok,  the  Eighteenth  Century  Hasidic 
tzaddik,  in  which  he  questions  God’s  justice  toward  his  people. 
Jews  in  all  parts  of  the  world  still  sing  its  stirring  strains: 

Therefore  I,  Levi-Yitzchok  ben  Sara  of  Berditchev  say: 

Lo  azus  mimkomi!  I shall  not  stir  from  here! 

An  end  must  come  to  all  this! 

Israel’s  suffering  must  end! 

lsgadal  v’iskadash  shmay  rahbo! 

Magnified  and  sanctified  be  the  name  of  the  Lord! 



Wise  Men 

Wise  and  Learned  Men 


The  chacham,  the  wise  man,  has  always  been  the  beau  ideal  of 
Jewish  tradition,  and  therefore  of  folklore  as  well.  To  a consider- 
able degree,  the  chacham  resembles  the  Greek  conception  of  the 
philosopher.  Knowledge  and  reason  lead  him  to  wisdom.  And 
what  is  the  highest  wisdom?  Virtue,  of  course.  For  this  reason 
the  chacham  is  required  to  be  not  only  learned  but  righteous!  He 
must  have  a passion  for  truth  and  possess  genuine  piety  whiclw. 
dwells  in  the  pure  spirit  alone.  Above  all,  he  must  love  peopflT 
and  seek  justice.  This  pattern  was  laid  down  by  Moses  and  the 
Prophets  and  it  is  remarkable  how  many  Jews  have  attempted  to 
emulate  them  ever  since. 

Before  one  could  become  wise  one  first  had  to  acquire 
knowledge.  “He  who  lacks  knowledge  lacks  everything,”  said  the 
sages  of  the  Talmud.  By  knowledge  was  meant,  not  just  any  kind 
of  knowledge,  but  knowledge  of  the  Torah.  And  yet  all  knowl- 
edge, regardless  of  the  source,  was  revered.  That  is  why  so 
many  rabbis  studied  Greek  philosophy,  the  natural  sciences,  medi- 
cine, and  other  peoples’  wisdom  literature.  One  of  the  rabbis  of 
the  Second  Century  expressed  this  very  directly:  ‘The  man  who 
understands  astronomy  and  does  not  pursue  the  study  of  it,  of 
him  it  is  written  in  Scripture:  They  regard  not  the  work  of  the 
Lord,  neither  have  they  considered  his  handiwork.’  ” One  over-en- 
thusiastic writer  in  the  Talmud  even  went  as  far  as  to  say:  “A 
scholar  is  greater  than  a prophet.” 

The  Yiddish-speaking  Jews  of  the  East  European  ghettos,  until 
very  recently  representing  the  great  majority  of  the  Jews  of  the 
world,  took  this  rabbinical  dictum  quite  seriously.  They  venerated 
the  role  and  function  of  the  lamdan  (scholar)  above  all  other 
callings.  For  generations  fond  mothers  would  put  their  children 
to  sleep  with  the  haunting  lullaby: 




What  is  the  best  schoirah  (merchandise)? 

My  baby  will  learn  Toirah  (Torah), 

S’forim  (holy  books)  he  will  write  for  me. 

And  a pious  Jew  he’ll  always  be. 

Wise  and  learned  became  synonymous  concepts  in  Jewish 
thinking  and  the  man  who  possessed  both  learning  and  wisdom 
was  known  as  a talmid  chochem  (“a  disciple  of  the  wise”).  This 
was  a title  of  honor  that  represented  the  ultimate  in  social  appre- 
ciation and  recognition.  Quite  generally,  although  not  always  so, 
learning  for  Jews  did  not  serve  as  an  end  in  itself  but  as  a means 
leading  to  a higher  goal;  it  had  to  be  endowed  with  the  rapture 
of  consecration.  Therefore,  the  ancient  rabbis  said:  “As  with 
God,  wisdom  is  a gift  of  free  grace,  so  should  man  make  it  a 
free  gift.” 

This  was  a conclusion  that  patently  arose  out  of  a profound  so- 
cial conscience;  it  was  an  impulse  of  democratic  urgency  in  which 
learning  and  wisdom  found  their  validity  in  improving  men’s 
minds  as  well  as  their  way  of  life.  Jewish  tradition  could  see  little 
merit  in  the  saint  who  chose  to  prove  his  virtue  by  living  alone  in 
the  wilderness.  Likewise  with  the  scholar.  It  was  not  enough  that 
he  sought  knowledge  and  understanding  for  his  own  illumination. 
Possession  of  them  imposed  upon  him  the  higher  obligation  to 
share  them  to  the  utmost  with  others  less  knowing  or  less  fortu- 
nate than  he.  This  exalted  conception  of  learning  led  to  the  rab- 
binic opinion  that  it  was  wrong  of  the  teacher  of  the  Torah  to 
accept  remuneration  for  his  instruction,  for  one  must  not  traffic 
for  gain  with  sacred  values.  With  this  in  mind  most  of  the  Tan- 
naim  and  the  Amoraim,  the  architects  of  the  Mishna,  Midrash 
and  Talmud,  did  not  teach  for  gain  but  earned  their  livelihood  in 
other  ways  at  various  trades  and  callings.  Thus  the  illustrious 
Rabbi  Hillel  toiled  as  a common  wood-cutter;  Rabbi  Yohanan 
ha-Sandler  was  a maker  of  sandals;  Rabbi  Isaac  Nappaha  had  a 
smithy;  the  great  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Hananiah  was  a skilled 
maker  of  needles;  Rabbi  Resh  Lakesh  was  a night  watchman  in  a 
vineyard;  Rabbi  Abba  Hilkiah,  the  famous  “rain-maker,”  was  an 
agricultural  day-laborer  and  Rabbi  Shammai,  the  rector  of  a fa- 
mous Jerusalem  academy,  was  a land-surveyor.  Thus,  the  dignity 
of  labor  was  given  increased  luster  by  this  example  of  the  rabbis. 

The  scholar,  the  wise  man,  had  no  obsessive  need  of  worldly 
good.  The  pampering  of  the  senses  and  a life  of  ease  and  luxury 
were  interdicted  for  him  by  tradition.  It  was  considered  that  they 
would  only  lead  him  into  error  and  corrupt  his  moral  values,  and 
thus,  without  virtue,  he  no  longer  would  be  wise.  In  the  great 
academy  that  Yohanan  ben  Zakkai  founded  in  Jabneh  after  the 
destruction  of  Jerusalem,  the  sages  taught  the  social  creed  of  the 
scholar:  “I  who  study  Holy  Lore  am  a man;  my  brother,  the  un- 



lettered  one,  is  also  a man.  I do  my  wort  in  the  House  of 
Study — he  is  occupied  as  a tiller  of  the  soil.  I rise  in  the  morning 
to  earn  my  bread;  he  too  with  his  toil.  Even  as  he  is  not  vainglo- 
rious about  his  work  so  am  I humble  in  my  own.  Perhaps  you 
will  say  that  I do  important  work  and  he  not.  That  is  not  true. 
Our  sages  have  taught  us  that  he  who  does  much  and  he  who 
does  little  are  equal  if  only  their  intention  is  good.” 

Of  course  the  Jews  were  not  the  only  people  in  Antiquity  who 
revered  wisdom.  The  Egyptians,  the  Babylonians  and  the  Greeks 
were  equally  devoted  to  it  For  instance,  the  Book  of  Proverbs 
owes  much  to  the  sayings  of  the  Egyptian  scribe  Amenemope. 
Greek  philosophical  ideas,  and  even  modes  of  expression,  are 
found  in  Jewish  wisdom  literature.  The  Book  of  Ecclesiastes  is  full 
of  Stoic  and  Epicurean  doctrines.  And  as  for  Job,  which  contains 
a panegyric  to  wisdom  ( chochma ) in  Chapter  Twenty-eight,  it  is 
soaked  in  the  twilight  skepticism  of  Hellenist  thought.  No  less 
Greek  are  the  sayings  of  Ben  Sira  and  yet,  like  Job,  they  are  so 
profoundly  Hebraic.  None  but  a Jew  trained  in  the  ethical  ration- 
alism of  Judaism  could  have  possibly  written  his  biting  social 
satires  so  graphically  full  of  the  turmoil  of  the  age.  And  his  wis- 
dom is  the  wisdom  of  the  lucid  mind,  of  the  critical  and  apprais- 
ing faculty  that  receives  its  impulse  from  a worldliness  that  is  not 
parochial,  but  recoils  from  the  obscure  and  the  mystical. 

What  is  too  wonderful  for  thee,  do  not  seek. 

What  is  hidden  from  thee,  do  not  search. 

Understand  that  which  is  permitted  thee; 

And  have  no  concern  with  mysteries. 

The  Hellenist  intellectuals  among  the  Jews  of  the  first  two  cen- 
turies b.c.  did  their  best  to  reconcile  Jewish  wisdom  with  Greek 
philosophy.  For  instance,  Aristobulus,  the  first  Jewish  philosopher 
in  Alexandria  (180-146  b.c.),  claimed:  “Plato  followed  the  Laws 
(i.e.,  the  laws  of  the  Torah)  given  to  us,  and  had  manifestly 
studied  all  that  is  said  in  them.”  He  also  tried  to  show  the  simi- 
larity between  the  teachings  of  Moses  and  those  of  the  major 
Greek  philosophers,  saying  that  wisdom  or  chochma  was  es- 
teemed equally  by  the  Peripatetics  and  King  Solomon.  This  belief 
had  wide  currency  and  even  became  a fixed  tradition  among  the 
Christian  Church  Fathers. 

So  many  of  the  stories  in  this  compilation,  whether  serious  or 
humorous,  reveal  with  folkloristic  directness  the  Jewish  attitude 
towards  learning  and  wisdom,  scholars  and  wise  men.  Of  great 
interest  is  the  Midrash  parable,  The  Most  Vaulable  Merchandise. 
In  a world  in  which  the  homeless  and  driven  Jew  was  forced  by 
his  enemies  to  become  a despised  huckster  of  material  goods  he 
discovered  by  experience  that  learning  was  the  only  “merchan- 



dise”  that  had  enduring  value.  It  could  neither  be  lost  nor  stolen 
nor  snatched  from  him  by  violence  as  in  the  case  of  his  material 
chattels.  Therefore,  the  moral  of  the  story,  bitter-exalted  in  its 
flash  of  insight:  “Learning  is  the  best  merchandise.”  Ever  since 
the  Talmudic  era  this  saying  has  been  on  the  lips  of  Jewish  folk, 
uttered  with  a certainty  and  an  intensity  that  has  had  few  paral- 
lels in  general  lore. 

Jewish  learning  never  holds  a recommendation  for  the  wise 
man  or  scholar  to  become  divorced  from  life.  The  rabbinic  anec- 
dote, Learning  That  Leads  to  Action,  carries  its  own  answer  and 
justification  for  knowledge.  Also  the  mind,  by  which  one  is  able 
to  comprehend  learning  and  wisdom,  must  not  be  exalted  above 
all  other  human  faculties.  Feeling  and  sentiment  are  never  to  be 
divorced  from  wisdom.  We  find  this  truth  dwelled  upon  in  the 
Agada  piece,  The  Best  and  the  Worst  Things.  What  is  the  best 
thing?  A good  heart.  The  worst?  A bad  heart. 


The  Romance  of  Akiba1 

In  Jerusalem  there  once  lived  a very  rich  man  whose  name 
was  Kalba  Sabua.  He  had  an  only  daughter,  Rachel,  who  was 
beautiful  and  clever.  The  sons  of  the  best  families  in  the  land 
proposed  to  her  in  marriage  but  she  rejected  them  all. 

“Neither  riches  nor  good  family  concern  me,”  she  said. 
The  man  I will  marry  must,  above  all,  have  a noble  charac- 
ter and  a good  heart.” 

Among  the  shepherds  who  watched  over  her  father’s  flocks 
and  herds  was  a youth  whose  name  was  Akiba.  Rachel  fell  in 
love  with  him  and  one  day  said  to  her  father,  “I  want  Akiba 
for  my  husband.” 

u Have  you  gone  out  of  your  mind?”  cried  her  father. 
How  can  you  expect  me  to  become  the  father-in-law  of  my 
servant?  Never  mention  this  to  me  again!” 

“Father,  give  me  Akiba  for  my  husband!”  pleaded  Rachel. 
“I  will  not  marry  another.” 

“If  you  insist  on  marrying  him  you  must  leave  my  house!” 
threatened  her  father. 

Rachel  said  no  more  but  her  mind  was  made  up.  She  left 
her  father’s  house  and  a life  of  luxury  and  fled  with  Akiba. 

When  Kalba  Sabua  heard  of  this  he  took  a solemn  oath: 
“My  daughter  shall  not  inherit  even  the  least  of  my  pos- 



Outside  the  city  Akiba  and  his  wife  put  up  a tent.  Having 
but  little  money  they  suffered  privation  and  lived  on  dry 
bread  alone.  None  the  less,  Rachel  was  happy  and  sustained 
the  spirit  of  Akiba. 

“I  would  rather  live  with  you  in  poverty  than  without  you 
in  riches,”  she  told  him. 

Their  bed  consisted  only  of  a straw  pallet.  If  a strong  wind 
began  to  blow  at  night  it  would  scatter  the  straw  about. 
Rachel  noticed  that  Akiba  no  longer  slept  but  was  wrapped 
in  gloom. 

“Why  are  you  so  sad,  my  husband?”  she  asked. 

“It’s  on  your  account,  Rachel,”  he  replied.  “You  must  suf- 
fer so,  and  all  on  account  of  me!” 

At  that  very  moment  someone  called  from  outside  their 

‘‘What  is  it  you  wish?”  asked  Rachel. 

“Have  pity  on  me!”  answered  the  voice.  “My  wife  has 
fallen  sick  and  I have  no  straw  to  make  a bed  for  her.  Give 
me  some,  if  you  can.” 

And  Rachel  gave  him  some  straw.  Then  she  said  to  Akiba, 
Just  see — you  consider  us  unfortunate  but  there  are  people 
who  are  even  poorer  than  we.” 

“Bless  you  for  your  words!  They  have  consoled  me!”  cried 

Often  Akiba  had  expressed  the  wish  to  attend  the  Houses 
of  Study  m Jerusalem  in  order  to  acquire  learning. 

One  day  Rachel  said  to  him,  “You  must  carry  out  your 
plan  to  become  an  educated  man.  I know  it  will  be  very  diffi- 
cult for  you  but  I will  gladly  remain  behind  and  not  stand  in 
your  way.  I will  patiently  wait  for  your  return.” 

Thereupon  Akiba  arose  and  made  ready  for  his  journey  to 
Jerusalem.  His  wife  accompanied  him  on  the  way  for  a dis- 
tance. Then  she  bade  him  fond  farewell  and  turned  sadlv 
back.  1 

As  he  walked  along  the  road  Akiba  said  to  himself,  “I’m 
almost  forty  years  old  and  now  it  may  be  too  late  for  me  to 
study  the  Word  of  God.  Who  knows  if  I will  ever  be  able  to 
achieve  my  goal!” 

Suddenly  he  came  upon  several  shepherds  sitting  near  a 
spring.  At  the  mouth  of  the  spring  lay  a stone  which  had 
many  grooves. 

“What  caused  these  grooves?”  he  asked  the  shepherds. 



“They  were  made  by  drops  of  water  that  steadily  trickled 
upon  the  stone.” 

Hearing  this  Akiba  rejoiced.  He  said  to  himself,  “If  a stone 
may  be  softened  how  much  easier  will  it  be  to  soften  my 

And  he  continued  on  his  journey  until  he  came  to  a school 
for  children.  There  he  learned  how  to  read  and  write  and  was 
not  ashamed  to  study  with  children.  After  that  he  entered  the 
Houses  of  Study.  He  became  a pupil  of  Rabbi  Nahum  Ish 
Gamzu.  Afterwards  he  studied  with  Rabbi  Eliezer  ben 
Hyrkanos  and  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Hananiah. 

Each  day,  before  he  went  to  the  House  of  Study,  Akiba 
would  go  into  the  forest  to  chop  some  wood.  A part  of  it  he 
sold  in  order  to  nourish  himself,  a part  he  kept  for  his  own 
use,  and  the  rest  he  used  to  pillow  his  head  at  night. 

When  Rachel  heard  of  his  hard  manner  of  living  she 
wished  to  help  him.  She  cut  off  her  hair  which  she  sold,  and 
sent  him  the  money. 

Despite  his  poverty,  Akiba  studied  night  and  day.  Before 
long  he  outdistanced  all  the  other  students  in  knowledge  and 
in  wisdom.  When  they  met  with  a difficult  problem  they 
asked  him  to  solve  it. 

Once  Akiba  stood  outside  the  House  of  Study.  At  that  time 
his  comrades  were  discussing  a very  difficult  question  in  a 
matter  of  Law.  Akiba  suddenly  heard  one  say,  “The  solution 
is  outside.” 

By  that  he  clearly  meant  Akiba,  who  was  capable  of  an- 
swering the  question. 

Akiba  heard  him  but  he  did  not  stir  from  his  place. 

The  students  then  continued  to  discuss  another  passage  of 
the  Torah  but  soon  discovered  that  they  did  not  understand 

“The  Torah  is  outside!”  called  another  student. 

Akiba  heard  him  but  pretended  he  did  not  understand  the 
words.  And  still  he  did  not  enter  the  House  of  Study. 

Once  again  the  students  met  with  a knotty  problem. 

“Is  Akiba  outside?”  one  of  them  cried.  “Do  come  in, 

This  time  Akiba,  since  he  had  been  addressed,  entered  and 
sat  himself  at  the  feet  of  Rabbi  Eliezer  and  his  face  was  filled 
with  the  radiance  of  illumination. 

For  twelve  long  years  Akiba  stayed  away  from  his  wife. 

WISE  MEN  39 

One  day  he  said  to  himself,  “It  is  high  time  that  I return  to 
her  and  give  her  some  happiness.” 

As  he  reached  her  door  he  heard  a woman’s  voice  saying, 
“What  has  happened  to  you,  Rachel,  happens  to  all  disobedi- 
ent children.  Your  husband  has  been  away  twelve  years.  All 
this  time  you  have  been  living  in  solitude  and  poverty.  Who 
knows  whether  he’ll  ever  come  back  again!  Had  you  but  lis- 
tened to  your  father  you  would  have  been  rich  and  happy  to- 

“Were  my  husband  here  to  take  my  advice,”  replied 
Rachel,  “he’d  remain  away  another  twelve  years  and  continue 
his  studies,  undisturbed.” 

When  Akiba  heard  her  speak  thus  he  suppressed  his  bitter 
yearning  for  her  and  turned  away. 

For  twelve  more  years  he  continued  his  studies,  this  time 
away  from  Jerusalem.  His  fame  became  so  great  that  the 
number  of  his  students  grew  to  twenty-four  thousand. 

When  the  second  twelve  years  were  completed  Akiba  de- 
cided to  return  to  Jerusalem.  The  multitude  of  his  students 
accompanied  him  there. 

Soon  the  report  of  his  return  spread  throughout  Jerusalem. 
All  the  inhabitants  streamed  into  the  streets  to  welcome  him 
back.  Among  them,  unknown  to  each  other,  were  also  Kalba 
Sabua  and  Rachel;  they  had  not  met  for  twenty-four  years. 

Rachel  was  so  poorly  dressed  that  her  neighbors  had  said 
to  her,  “Let  us  lend  you  some  good  clothes.  You  cannot  go 
forth  dressed  like  a beggar  to  meet  such  a great  man  as 

“A  man  such  as  Akiba  is  unconcerned  with  the  way  people 
are  dressed!”  replied  Rachel. 

When  Akiba  appeared  among  his  students  Rachel  elbowed 
her  way  through  the  throng.  She  fell  at  his  feet  and  with 
streaming  eyes  kissed  the  hem  of  his  robe.  Akiba’s  students 
wished  to  drive  the  intruder  away. 

“Let  her  be,  she  is  my  wife!”  cried  Akiba.  “Know  that  had 
it  not  been  for  her  I would  never  have  been  your  teacher.  It 
was  she  who  urged  me  on  to  devote  myself  to  learning.  She 
has  waited  for  me  for  twenty-four  long  years!” 

And  speaking  thus  he  raised  her  from  the  ground,  kissed 
her  and  went  with  her  into  her  poor  hut. 

In  the  meantime,  Kalba  Sabua,  who  did  not  know  that 
Rabbi  Akiba,  the  foremost  sage  in  Israel,  was  his  former 
shepherd  and  his  son-in-law,  was  determined  to  see  him.  He 



wished  to  ask  Rabbi  Akiba  to  release  him  from  the  solemn 
oath  he  had  once  taken  to  disinherit  his  daughter.  So  he  went 
to  Rabbi  Akiba  and  laid  the  matter  before  him. 

“And  why  did  you  reject  the  shepherd?”  asked  the  sage, 
without  making  his  identity  known. 

“He  was  an  ignorant  man!” 

“And  where  is  your  daughter  now,  and  where  is  her  hus- 

“I  do  not  know,  Master.  I haven’t  seen  them  for  twenty- 
four  years.  If  you  will  release  me  from  my  oath  I will  go  and 
seek  them  to  the  ends  of  the  earth.” 

All  this  Rachel  heard  from  an  adjoining  room.  Unable  to 
restrain  her  feelings  any  longer  she  burst  into  the  room,  cry- 
ing to  her  father,  “I  am  your  daughter,  Rachel,  and  Rabbi 
Akiba  is  your  son-in-law!” 

Amazed  and  overawed,  Kalba  Sabua  regarded  his  children. 
Then  he  embraced  them  and  cried,  “My  good  daughter,  you 
were  right  when  you  married  Akiba  against  my  wishes. 
Blessed  be  both  of  you!” 

The  Rabbi  and  the  Inquisitor 

The  city  of  Seville  was  seething  with  excitement.  A Christian 
boy  had  been  found  dead,  and  the  Jews  were  falsely  accused 
by  their  enemies  of  having  murdered  him  in  order  to  use  his 
blood  ritually  in  the  baking  of  matzos  for  Passover.  So  the 
rabbi  was  brought  before  the  Grand  Inquisitor  to  stand  trial 
as  head  of  the  Jewish  community. 

The  Grand  Inquisitor  hated  the  rabbi,  but,  despite  all  his 
efforts  to  prove  that  the  crime  had  been  committed  by  the 
Jews,  the  rabbi  succeeded  in  disproving  the  charge.  Seeing 
that  he  had  been  bested  in  argument,  the  Inquisitor  turned  his 
eyes  piously  to  Heaven  and  said: 

“We  will  leave  the  judgment  of  this  matter  to  God.  Let 
there  be  a drawing  of  lots.  I shall  deposit  two  pieces  of  paper 
in  a box.  On  one  I shall  write  the  word  ‘guilty5 — the  other 
will  have  no  writing  on  it.  If  the  Jew  draws  the  first,  it  will  be 
a sign  from  Heaven  that  the  Jews  are  guilty,  and  we’ll  have 
him  burned  at  the  stake.  If  he  draws  the  second,  on  which 
there  is  no  writing,  it  will  be  divine  proof  of  the  Jews’  inno- 
cence, so  we’ll  let  him  go.” 

Now  the  Grand  Inquisitor  was  a cunning  fellow.  He  was 
anxious  to  bum  the  Jew,  and  since  he  knew  that  no  one 



would  ever  find  out  about  it,  he  decided  to  write  the  word 
“guilty”  on  both  pieces  of  paper.  The  rabbi  suspected  he  was 
going  to  do  just  this.  Therefore,  when  he  put  his  hand  into 
the  box  and  drew  forth  a piece  of  paper  he  quickly  put  it 
into  his  mouth  and  swallowed  it. 

“What  is  the  meaning  of  this,  Jew?”  raged  the  Inquisitor. 
“How  do  you  expect  us  to  know  which  paper  you  drew  now 
that  you’ve  swallowed  it?” 

“Very  simple,”  replied  the  rabbi.  “You  have  only  to  look 
at  the  paper  in  the  box.” 

So  they  took  out  the  piece  of  paper  still  in  the  box. 

“There!”  cried  the  rabbi  triumphantly.  “This  paper  says 
‘guilty,’  therefore  the  one  I swallowed  must  have  been  blank. 
Now,  you  must  release  me!” 

And  they  had  to  let  him  go. 

Shallow  Judgment 2 

A princess  once  said  to  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Hananiah,  “It  is 
true  that  you  are  a sage,  but  why  are  you  so  ugly?  Imagine 
God  pouring  wisdom  into  such  an  ugly  vessel  as  yours!” 

Rabbi  Joshua  answered,  “Tell  me,  O .Princess,  in  what  sort 
of  vessels  does  your  father  keep  his  wine?” 

“In  earthen  jars,  of  course,”  answered  the  Princess. 

Rabbi  Joshua  pretended  to  be  amazed. 

“How  can  that  be?”  he  exclaimed.  “Everybody  keeps  wine 
in  earthen  jars,  but  your  father,  after  all,  is  the  King!  Surely 
he  can  afford  finer  vessels!” 

“In  what  sort  of  vessels  do  you  think  my  father  ought  to 
keep  his  wine?” 

“For  a King,  gold  and  silver  vessels  would  be  more  fitting.” 

The  Princess  then  went  to  her  father  and  said,  “It  is  not  fit- 
ting that  a King  like  you  should  keep  his  wine  in  earthen  jars 
like  the  commonest  man.” 

The  King  agreed  and  ordered  that  all  his  wine  should  be 
poured  into  gold  and  silver  vessels.  This  was  done,  but  before 
long  the  wine  turned  sour. 

Angered,  the  King  asked  his  daughter,  “From  whom  did 
you  get  the  advice  you  gave  me?” 

“From  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Hananiah.” 

So  the  King  sent  for  Rabbi  Joshua. 

“What  made  you  give  my  daughter  such  wicked  advice?” 
he  asked  angrily. 



Rabbi  Joshua  then  told  him  how  the  Princess  had  referred 
to  him  as  “wisdom  in  an  ugly  vessel,”  and  that  he  had 
wanted  to  prove  to  her  that  beauty  is  sometimes  a handicap. 

. The  King  remonstrated : “Aren’t  there  people  who  combine 
m themselves  both  beauty  and  great  talents?” 

Rabbi  Joshua  answered,  “Rest  assured— had  they  been 
ugly  their  talents  would  have  been  better  developed.” 

The  Vanity  of  Rabbi  Mar  Zutrcfi 

Rabbi  Mar  Zutra  was  on  his  way  from  Sikhra  to  Marhuza 
at  the  same  time  that  Rabbi  Raba  and  Rabbi  Safra  were  on 
their  way  from  Marhuza  to  Sikhra.  When  Rabbi  Mar  Zutra 
saw  them  approaching  he  was  under  the  impression  that  they 
had  come  to  welcome  him  to  Marhuza.  So  he  said  to  them. 
You  really  didn’t  have  to  go  to  all  that  trouble  and  come 
out  so  far  to  welcome  me!” 

“You  are  mistaken,  Rabbi,”  Rabbi  Safra  replied.  “Had  we 
known  that  you  were  coming,  rest  assured  we  would  have 
gone  to  even  greater  pains  to  greet  you!” 

Then  they  parted. 

When  Rabbi  Mar  Zutra  had  passed,  Rabbi  Raba  re- 
proached Rabbi  Safra. 

Did  you  have  to  tell  him  the  truth,  that  we  had  not  come 
to  welcome  him?  You  offended  him.” 

“Had  I not  told  him  the  truth  it  would  have  meant  that  we 
were  deceiving  him,”  Rabbi  Safra  insisted. 

“Not  at  all!”  answered  Rabbi  Raba.  “We  would  not  have 
deceived  him;  he  would  have  deceived  himself.” 

Grief  in  Moderation 4 

When  the  Temple  was  destroyed  by  Titus  the  Wicked,  there 
were  among  Jews  many,  particularly  Pharisees,  who  took  a 
vow  never  again  to  eat  meat  or  drink  wine. 

“Why  don’t  you  eat  meat  and  drink  wine?”  Rabbi  Joshua 
asked  them. 

They  lamented:  “How  can  we  eat  flesh  that  formerly  was 
brought  as  a sacrifice  upon  the  Temple  altar  when  now  we 
may  no  longer  sacrifice?  How  can  we  drink  wine  which  the 
priests  used  to  pour  upon  the  Temple  altar  when  now  we  no 
longer  have  any  altar?” 

“In  that  case,”  argued  Rabbi  Joshua,  “we  shouldn’t  eat  any 

WISE  MEN  43 

bread  either,  because,  since  the  destruction  of  the  Temple, 
sacrifices  of  flour  also  have  been  abolished.” 

“You’re  right,”  they  answered,  “we  can  substitute  fruit  for 

“How  can  we  eat  fruit?”  Rabbi  Joshua  asked.  “The  first 
fruits  were  also  brought  to  Jerusalem  for  the  Temple’s  use 
and  now  that  such  offerings  have  been  abolished,  we 
shouldn’t  eat  them.” 

“Possibly  we  could  eat  fruits  from  which  such  offerings  did 
not  have  to  be  made,”  ventured  the  Pharisees. 

“Let’s  stop  drinking  water,”  Rabbi  Joshua  continued,  “be- 
cause the  water-libation  for  the  altar  has  also  been  abol- 

At  this  the  Pharisees  fell  silent;  they  did  not  know  what  to 
answer.  Seeing  that  he  had  brought  them  back  to  reason. 
Rabbi  Joshua  said  to  them: 

“My  children,  pay  heed  to  what  I’m  going  to  tell  you.  It 
would  be  impossible  to  expect  us  not  to  grieve,  for  indeed  a 
bitter  fate  has  befallen  us.  However,  one  must  not  indulge  too 
much  in  grief.  It  is  wrong  to  impose  upon  the  Jewish  people 
burdens  that  they  cannot  bear.” 

The  Virtue  of  the  Commonplace 

A rabbi  once  had  a dispute  with  a Jew-baiting  theologian. 
Said  the  latter,  “You  Jews  brag  about  your  world-mission  and 
are  proud  of  the  fact  that  you  are  God’s  Chosen  People — yet 
everybody  tramples  you  underfoot!  Aren’t  you  deceiving 

The  rabbi  replied,  “When  our  Father  Jacob  fled  before  the 
wrath  of  Esau,  God  appeared  to  him  in  a dream  and  said: 
‘And  thy  seed  shall  be  as  the  dust  of  the  earth.’  What,  may  I 
ask,  brings  greater  use  to  man  than  the  earth?  Just  the 
same — men  trample  it  underfoot. . . .” 

Why  God  Gave  No  Wisdom  to  Foolsfi 

A woman  of  high  rank  once  asked  Rabbi  Yose  bar  Halaftah, 
“Why  is  it  written  in  the  Book  of  Daniel  that  God  bestows 
wisdom  on  the  wise?  Rightly,  shouldn’t  God  instead  have 
bestowed  wisdom  on  the  fools  who  really  need  it?” 

“Let  me  explain  this  matter  to  you  with  a parable,”  an- 
swered Rabbi  Yose.  “Imagine  that  two  people  wish  to  borrow 



money  from  you.  If  one  is  rich  and  the  other  poor,  to  which 
of  the  two  will  you  lend  the  money?” 

To  the  rich,  of  course,”  the  woman  answered. 

“Why  so?”  asked  Rabbi  Yose. 

The  woman  answered,  “If  the  rich  man  loses  the  money  I 
lend  him  he’ll  find  some  way  to  return  it  to  me.  But  where 
will  the  poor  man  get  the  money  to  repay  me?” 

“May  your  ears  hear  what  your  lips  are  saying!”  exclaimed 
Rabbi  Yose.  “Were  the  Almighty  to  bestow  wisdom  on  the 
fools,  what  do  you  think  they  would  do  with  it?  They  would 
only  sprawl  themselves  licentiously  in  the  theatres  and  at  the 
baths  and  play  at  being  clever  the  livelong  day.  That’s  why 
He  gave  His  wisdom  to  the  wise  who  seek  after  wisdom  in 
the  Houses  of  Study.” 

Learning  Knows  No  Class9 

There  were  two  families  that  lived  in  Sepphoris.  One  consist- 
ed of  aristocrats,  educated  people  who  were  wise  in  counsel. 
The  other  one  consisted  of  common,  undistinguished  people. 

Each  day,  when  the  two  families  proceeded  to  the  house  of 
the  Nasi  to  pay  their  respects  to  him,  the  aristocrats  would 
enter  first  and  the  common  people  could  go  in  only  after  the 
others  had  left. 

Now  it  happened  that  these  insignificant  people  began  to 
apply  themselves  to  study,  and  in  time  they  became  great 
scholars.  Then  they  demanded  that  they  get  precedence  over 
the  aristocrats  when  they  went  to  pay  their  respects  to  the 

This  incident  raised  a great  deal  of  discussion  everywhere. 
When  Rabbi  Simeon  ben  Lakish  was  asked  for  an  opinion  he 
passed  the  question  on  to  Rabbi  Yohanan  who  concluded: 

“A  bastard  who  is  a scholar  is  superior  to  a High  Priest 
who  is  an  ignoramus.” 

Learning  That  Leads  to  Action1 

Rabbi  Tarfon  sat  conversing  on  serious  matters  with  other 
learned  men  in  a house  in  Ludd.  The  question  was  raised: 
“Which  is  more  important — learning  or  action?” 

Rabbi  Tarfon  replied,  “Action  is  more  important.  Of  what 
earthly  use  are  fine  words  and  preachments  unless  they  are 
put  into  practice?” 



Rabbi  Akiba  upheld  the  contrary  viewpoint. 

“Learning  is  more  important,”  he  said. 

The  sages  finally  concluded  that  both  were  right. 

“Learning  is  more  important  when  it  leads  to  action,”  they 

The  Parable  of  the  Two  Gents8 

Once,  after  he  had  listened  to  his  counsellor,  Nicholas  of  Va- 
lencia, speaking  evil  against  the  Jews,  King  Don  Pedro  was 
very  much  perplexed  in  his  own  mind. 

“There  is  a wise  man  among  the  Jews  whose  name  is 
Ephraim  Sancho,”  the  king  recalled.  “Bring  him  to  me.” 

So  they  brought  Ephraim  Sancho  before  the  king. 

“Which  faith  is  superior,  yours  or  ours?”  the  king  sternly 
demanded  of  Ephraim. 

When  Ephraim  heard  the  king’s  question  he  was  thrown 
into  confusion  and  said  to  himself:  “Be  wary,  for  the  enemies 
of  Israel  have  laid  a trap  for  you  in  order  to  do  you  harm.” 

But  to  the  king  he  said:  “Our  faith,  O King,  suits  us  better 
for,  when  we  were  slaves  to  Pharaoh  in  Egypt,  our  God,  by 
means  of  many  wondrous  signs  and  miracles,  led  us  out  of 
the  land  of  bondage  into  freedom.  For  you  Christians,  how- 
ever, your  own  faith  is  the  better  because,  by  its  means,  you 
have  been  able  to  establish  your  rule  over  most  of  the  earth.” 

When  King  Pedro  heard  this  he  was  vexed.  “I  did  not  ask 
you  what  benefits  each  religion  brings  to  its  believers,”  he 
said.  “What  I want  to  know  is:  which  are  superior — your  or 
our  own  precepts?” 

And  again  Ephraim  Sancho  was  thrown  into  confusion.  He 
said  to  himself:  “If  I tell  the  king  that  the  precepts  of  his  reli- 
gion are  superior  to  mine  I shall  have  denied  the  God  of  my 
fathers  and  shall  therefore  deserve  all  the  punishments  of  Ge- 
henna. On  the  other  hand,  should  I tell  him  that  the  precepts 
of  my  religion  excel  his  he  will  be  sure  to  have  me  burned  at 
the  stake.” 

But  to  the  king  Ephraim  said:  “If  it  please  the  King — let 
me  ponder  his  question  carefully  for  three  days,  for  it  re- 
quires much  reflection.  At  the  end  of  the  third  day  I will 
come  to  him  with  my  answer.” 

And  King  Pedro  said:  “Let  it  be  as  you  say.” 

And  for  the  three  days  that  followed  the  spirit  of  Ephraim 
was  rent  within  him.  He  neither  ate  nor  slept  but  put  on 



sackcloth  and  ashes  and  prayed  for  divine'  guidance.  But, 
when  the  time  arrived  for  him  to  see  the  king,  he  put  all  fear 
aside  and  went  to  the  palace  with  his  answer. 

When  Ephraim  Sancho  came  before  the  king  he  looked 

“Why  are  you  so  sad?”  the  king  asked  him. 

“I  am  sad  with  good  reason  for,  without  any  cause  whatso- 
ever, I was  humiliated  today,”  answered  Ephraim.  “I  will  let 
you  be  my  judge  in  this  matter,  O King.” 

“Speak!”  said  King  Don  Pedro. 

Ephraim  Sancho  then  began:  “A  month  ago  to  this  day  a 
neighbor  of  mine,  a jeweler,  went  on  a distant  journey.  Be- 
fore he  departed  in  order  to  preserve  the  peace  between  his 
two  bickering  sons  while  he  was  away,  he  gave  each  of  them 
a gift  of  a costly  gem.  But  only  today  the  two  brothers  came 
to  me  and  said:  ‘O  Ephraim,  give  us  the  value  of  these  gems 
and  judge  which  is  the  superior  of  the  two!’ 

“I  replied:  ‘Your  father  himself  is  a great  artist  and  an  ex- 
pert on  precious  stones.  Why  don’t  you  ask  him?  Surely  he 
will  give  you  a better  judgment  than  I.’ 

When  they  heard  this  they  became  enraged.  They  abused 
and  beat  me.  Judge,  O King,  whether  my  grievance  is  just!” 

“Those  rogues  have  mistreated  you  without  cause!”  cried 
the  king.  “They  deserve  to  be  punished  for  this  outrage.” 

When  Ephraim  Sancho  heard  the  king  speak  thus  he  re- 
joiced. “O  King!”  he  exclaimed.  “May  your  ears  hear  the 
words  your  own  mouth  has  spoken,  for  they  are  true  and 
just.  Know  that  such  two  brothers  as  these  were  Esau  and 
Jacob,  and  each  of  them  received  for  his  own  happiness  a 
priceless  gem.  You  have  asked  me,  O King,  which  of  the  two 
gems  is  superior.  How  can  I give  you  a proper  answer?  Send 
a messenger  to  the  only  expert  of  these  gems — Our  Father  in 
Heaven.  Let  Him  tell  you  which  is  the  better.”9 

When  King  Pedro  heard  Ephraim  Sancho  speak  thus  he 
marvelled  greatly.  “Behold,  Nicholas,”  he  said  to  his  coun- 
sellor. “Consider  the  wisdom  of  this  Jew.  Since  he  has  spoken 
justly  then  justice  shall  be  done  to  him.  He  deserves,  not  re- 
buke and  harm,  but  respect  and  honor.  You,  however, 
deserve  to  be  punished,  for  you  have  spoken  nothing  but  evil 
slanders  against  the  Jews.” 



The  Best  and  the  Worst  Things10 

Once  Rabbi  Yohanan  ben  Zakkai  said  to  his  five  disciples: 
“What  is  the  most  desirable  thing  to  strive  for  in  life?” 

Rabbi  Eliezer  said:  “A  good  eye.” 

Rabbi  Joshua  said:  “A  good  friend.” 

Rabbi  Yose  said:  “A  bad  neighbor.” 

Rabbi  Simeon  said:  “Wisdom  to  foretell  the  future.” 

Rabbi  Eleazar  said:  “A  good  heart.” 

Rabbi  Yohanan  then  said  to  his  five  disciples:  “The  words 
of  Eleazar  please  me  most,  because  his  thought  includes  all 
the  rest.” 

At  another  time  Rabbi  Yohanan  asked  his  disciples:  “What 
is  the  thing  that  man  should  avoid  most  in  life?” 

Rabbi  Eliezer  said:  “Ah  evil  eye.” 

Rabbi  Joshua  said:  “An  evil  friend.” 

Rabbi  Yose  said:  “A  bad  neighbor.” 

Rabbi  Simeon  said:  “One  who  borrows  money  and  doesn’t 
return  it.” 

Rabbi  Eleazar  said:  “A  bad  heart.” 

Rabbi  Yohanan  then  said:  “The  words  of  Eleazar  please 
me  most  because  his  thought  includes  all  of  yours.” 

God’s  Delicacy11 

The  Emperor  once  said  to  Rabbi  Gamaliel,  “Your  God  is  a 
thief!  Why  did  he  make  Adam  fall  asleep  and  then  steal  a rib 
from  him?” 

The  Emperor’s  daughter  interrupted  and  said  to  Rabbi  Ga- 
maliel, “Let  me  answer  my  father.”  Then  turning  to  the  Em- 
peror, she  said,  “Call  a judge!” 

“What  do  you  need  a judge  for?”  the  Emperor  asked  in 

“Thieves  entered  my  apartment  at  night,”  the  Princess  re- 
plied. “They  stole  a silver  jug,  but  in  its  place  they  left  one 
made  of  gold.” 

“May  such  robberies  occur  every  night!”  laughed  the  Em- 

“Well  then,”  cried  the  Princess.  “Didn’t  such  good  fortune 
happen  to  Adam?  God  stole  from  him  a rib,  but  in  its  place 
he  left  him  a devoted  wife.” 

“In  my  opinion,”  rejoined  the  Emperor,  “it  was  wrong  of 
God  to  make  Adam  fall  asleep.  If  he  wanted  to  take  his  rib 
he  shouldn’t  have  done  it  stealthily.” 



“Father!”  cried  the  Princess.  “Order  that  a chunk  of  meat 
be  brought.” 

Wonderingly,  the  Emperor  did  as  she  asked. 

The  Princess  then  took  the  raw  meat  and  in  the  presence . 
of  her  father,  put  it  into  the  hot  ashes  to  roast.  When  it  was 
ready  for  serving  she  said  to  him,  “There  now,  father,  eat  the 

But  the  Emperor  shuddered  with  disgust  and  refused  to 
eat.  He  had  first  seen  the  meat  when  it  was  raw  and  after 
that,  when  it  was  still  covered  with  ashes. 

“It  nauseates  me!”  he  cried. 

“There  you  see!”  said  the  Princess  triumphantly.  “Had 
Adam  been  awake  and  seen  how  God  cut  out  his  rib  and 
created  a woman  from  it  he  would  have  forever  been 
nauseated  at  the  sight  of  her.” 

An  Author's  Life  After  Forty 

A young  Talmudic  scholar  who  had  just  completed  a learned 
work  came  to  Rabbi  Elijah,  the  Gaon  of  Vilna,  and  begged 
him  for  a testimonial. 

Rabbi  Elijah  regarded  his  visitor  with  gentle  compassion. 

“My  son,”  he  said  to  him,  “you  must  face  the  stem  reali- 
ties. If  you  wish  to  be  a writer  of  learned  books  you  must  be 
resigned  to  peddle  your  work  from  house  to  house  like  a ven- 
dor of  pots  and  pans  and  suffer  hunger  until  you’re  forty.” 

“And  what  will  happen  after  I’m  forty?”  asked  the  young 
writer,  hopefully. 

Rabbi  Elijah  smiled  encouragingly,  “By  the  time  you’re 
forty  you’ll  be  quite  used  to  it!” 

An  Unpredictable  Life 

One  day,  centuries  ago,  as  a rabbi  was  on  his  way  to  the 
House  of  Study  he  suddenly  met  the  duke  of  the  province 
followed  by  his  retinue. 

“Where  are  you  going  this  bright  morning,  Rabbi?”  the 
duke  asked  him  sarcastically. 

“I’m  sure  I don’t  know,  Your  Grace,”  replied  the  rabbi 
with  a doubtful  air. 

“You  don’t  know  where  you’re  going?  How  dare  you  speak 
so  impudently  to  me,  Jew?  I’ll  teach  you  to  have  proper  re- 
spect for  a Christian  prince!”  cried  the  duke,  and  he  ordered 
the  rabbi  thrown  into  a dungeon. 



“What  did  I tell  you,  Your  Grace?”  called  out  the  rabbi. 
“Now  you  see  for  yourself  that  I was  right  when  I said  I did 
not  know  where  I was  going.” 

“How  so?”  asked  the  duke  curiously. 

“You  see,  Your  Grace,  I left  my  home  this  morning  in  or- 
der to  go  to  the  House  of  Study — and  where  do  I wind  up? 
In  a dungeon!” 

Stale  Ancestors — Stale  Learning 

Usually  the  orthodox  rabbis  of  Europe  boasted  distinguished 
rabbinical  genealogies,  but  Rabbi  Yechiel  of  Ostrowce  was  an 
exception.  He  was  the  son  of  a simple  baker  and  he  inherited 
some  of  the  forthright  qualities  of  a man  of  the  people. 

Once,  when  a number  of  rabbis  had  gathered  at  some  fes- 
tivity, each  began  to  boast  of  his  eminent  rabbinical  ances- 
tors. When  Rabbi  Yechiel’s  turn  came,  he  replied  gravely,  “In 
my  family,  I’m  the  first  eminent  ancestor.” 

His  colleagues  were  shocked  by  this  piece  of  impudence, 
but  said  nothing.  Immediately  after,  the  rabbis  began  to  ex- 
pound Torah.  Each  one  was  asked  to  hold  forth  on  a test 
culled  from  the  sayings  of  one  of  his  distinguished  rabbinical 

One  after  another  the  rabbis  delivered  their  learned  disser- 
tations. At  last  it  came  time  for  Rabbi  Yechiel  to  say  some- 
thing. He  arose  and  said,  “My  masters,  my  father  was  a 
baker.  He  taught  me  that  only  fresh  bread  was  appetizing 
and  that  I must  avoid  the  stale.  This  can  also  apply  to  learn- 

And  with  that  Rabbi  Yechiel  sat  down. 

The  Most  Valuable  Merchandise 12 

A great  scholar  went  on  an  ocean  voyage  together  with  a 
number  of  merchants  who  were  conveying  goods  to  sell  in 
distant  lands. 

“What  kind  of  merchandise  do  you  carry?”  they  asked 

“My  merchandise  is  more  valuable  than  yours,”  he  an- 

But  what  it  was  he  would  not  say. 

The  merchants  were  astonished  and  looked  high  and  low  in 
every  part  of  the  ship.  But  there  was  no  sign  anywhere  of  his 
goods.  So  they  laughed  at  the  scholar. 



“He  is  a simpleton!”  they  said. 

After  they  had  sailed  several  days  pirates  attacked  them 
and  robbed  the  passengers  of  all  their  possessions,  including 
the  very  clothes  on  their  backs. 

When  the  ship  reached  port  at  last,  the  merchants  found 
themselves  without  any  money  or  clothes.  Being  strangers  in 
a foreign  land  they  were  in  a sorry  plight  and  endured  great 

The  scholar,  on  the  other  hand,  had  no  sooner  disem- 
barked than  he  made  his  way  to  the  House  of  Study  and  sat 
down  to  expound  the  Law.  When  the  people  saw  what  a 
learned  man  he  was  they  showed  him  great  honor.  They  gave 
him  clothing,  food  and  lodging.  When  he  went  into  the  street 
the  dignitaries  of  the  town  escorted  him  with  great  deference. 
Seeing  all  this,  his  fellow  passengers,  the  merchants,  were 

“Forgive  us  for  having  mocked  at  yon,”  they  begged  him. 
“Help  us!  Intercede  for  us  with  the  Elders  to  give  us  a crust 
of  bread,  for  we  are  hungry!  Now  we  see  that  it  was  no  idle 
boast  when  you  told  us  that  your  merchandise  was  more 
valuable  than  ours.  Learning  is  the  best  merchandise!” 

Learning  and  Knowing 

Once  there  was  a prodigy  of  learning  at  a Talmudic  College 
in  Poland.  His  fame  was  spread  far  and  wide  and  great  schol- 
ars came  to  talk  to  him,  and  marvel  over  his  wonderful  store 
of  knowledge. 

One  day  an  eminent  Talmudic  authority  arrived  and  asked 
the  head  of  the  institution,  “Tell  me,  Rabbi!  Is  it  true  that  the 
young  man  knows  so  much?” 

‘To  be  candid  with  you,”  answered  the  rabbi  with  a smile, 
“the  young  fellow  studies  so  much  I don’t  see  where  he  can 
find  the  time  to  know!” 


A freethinker  once  said  mockingly  to  Rabbi  Pinchas  of 
Koretz,  “Would  you  like  to  know  what  the  philosopher 
Spinoza  wrote  in  one  of  his  works?  He  wrote  that  man  in  no 
way  stands  higher  than  an  animal  and  that  he  has  the  same 

“If  that  is  so,”  remarked  the  rabbi,  “how  do  you  explain 



the  fact  that  up  until  now  the  animals  haven’t  produced  a 


Once  there  was  a young  sinner  whose  conscience  bothered 
him,  but  because  he  was  vain  he  found  it  hard  to  confess  his 
sins  to  his  rabbi.  So  he  fell  on  a stratagem.  He  went  to  the 
rabbi  and  pretended  that  a friend  had  sent  him  to  beg  for  the 
remission  of  his  sins.  He  therefore  recited  all  the  misdoings  of 
his  “friend”  who  he  said  was  too  ashamed  to  appear  and 
plead  for  himself. 

Now  the  rabbi  penetrated  his  pretense,  so  he  said  to  him, 
“What  a fool  your  friend  must  be!  Couldn’t  he  come  himself? 
After  all,  he  could  have  said  just  what  you  have  told  me — 
that  he  had  come  in  the  interest  of  a friend.  In  that  way  he 
would  have  spared  himself  any  embarrassment.” 

A Reason  for  Every  Custom 13 

It  happened  once  that  a well-to-do  merchant,  who  was  a 
clever  and  worldly  man,  maintained  his  newly  married  son 
and  his  wife  in  his  household.  The  son  had  a fine  character 
and  a good  heart.  He  devoted  himself  to  charitable  works 
and  helped  every  poor  man  who  asked  for  his  assistance. 

In  time  the  young  wife  gave  birth  to  a son;  and  so,  in 
honor  of  the  occasion,  the  happy  grandfather  arranged  a 
great  feast  on  the  day  of  circumcision. 

Shortly  before  the  festivities  were  to  begin  the  merchant’s 
son  asked,  “Tell  me,  father,  what  arrangements  have  you 
made  for  the  seating  of  the  guests?  If  you  do  the  conven- 
tional thing  and  seat  the  rich  at  the  head  of  the  table  and  the 
poor  near  the  door,  it  will  distress  me.  You  know  very  well 
how  I love  the  poor.  At  my  own  celebration,  at  least,  let  me 
honor  them  who  get  no  honor.  Therefore,  father,  promise  me 
to  seat  the  poor  at  the  head  of  the  table  and  the  rich  at  the 

His  father  listened  attentively  and  answered,  “Reflect,  my 
son:  it  is  difficult  to  change  the  world  and  its  ways.  There  is 
always  a good  reason  behind  every  custom.  Try  to  see  it  this 
way:  Why  do  poor  people  come  to  a feast?  Naturally,  be- 
cause they  are  hungry  and  would  like  to  eat  a good  meal. 
Why  do  rich  men  come  to  a feast?  To  get  honor.  They  don’t 
come  to  eat,  because  they  have  enough  at  home.  Now  just 



imagine  what  would  happen  if  you  seated  the  poor  at  the 
head  of  the  table.  They  would  sit  there,  very  self-consciously, 
feeling  everybody’s  eyes  on  them,  and,  naturally,  they  would 
be  ashamed  to  eat  their  fill.  And  what  they’d  eat  they 
wouldn’t  enjoy.  Now,  don’t  you  think  it  would  be  better  for 
their  sake  that  they  sat  unnoticed  at  the  door  where  they 
could  eat  to  their  heart’s  content  without  being  ashamed? 

“Then  again,  suppose  I were  to  do  what  you’re  asking  and 
seat  the  rich  at  the  foot  of  the  table.  Don’t  you  think  they’d 
feel  insulted?  They  don’t  come  for  the  sake  of  the  food,  but 
for  the  honor.  And  if  you  don’t  give  them  that  what  will  they 

Why  Jerusalem  Was  Destroyed 14 

“Why  was  Jerusalem  destroyed?”  asked  the  Sages  of  Israel. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  of  the  desecration  of 
the  Sabbath. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  the  morning  and  the 
evening  prayers  were  abolished. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  the  children  of  the 
schools  remained  untaught. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  the  people  did  not 
feel  shame  towards  one  another. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  no  distinction  was 
drawn  between  the  young  and  the  old. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  one  did  not  warn  or 
admonish  the  other. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  men  of  scholarship 
and  learning  were  despised. 

Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only  because  there  were  no  longer 
men  of  faith  and  hope  in  her  midst. 

Other  sages  of  Israel  said:  “Jerusalem  was  destroyed  only 
because  her  laws  were  founded  upon  the  strict  letter  of  the 
Torah  and  were  not  interpreted  in  the  way  of  mercy  and 

From  the  day  that  the  Temple  was  destroyed,  men  of 
sound  judgment  were  cut  off.  Confusion  of  thought  prevailed, 
and  the  heart  did  not  seek  after  purity  but  decided  according 
to  appearances.  The  shedding  of  blood  profanes  the  holy  soil 
and  is  an  offence  against  the  Divine  Presence;  it  was  because 
of  the  shedding  of  blood  that  the  Holy  Temple  was  burnt. 

WISE  MEN  53 

Where  Is  Paradise? 

A rabbi  fell  asleep  and  dreamt  that  he  had  entered  Paradise. 
There,  to  his  surprise,  he  found  the  sages  discussing  a knotty 
problem  in  the  Talmud. 

“Is  this  the  reward  of  Paradise?”  cried  the  rabbi.  “Why, 
they  did  the  very  same  thing  on  earth!” 

At  this  he  heard  a voice  chiding  him,  “You  foolish  man! 
You  think  the  sages  are  in  Paradise.  It’s  just  the  oppositel 
Paradise  is  in  the  sages.” 



Of  all  elements  in  Jewish  folklore  the  parable  is  probably  the 
most  distinctly  Jewish.  The  Hebrew  name  for  it  is  mashal,  but 
mashal  has  a wider  meaning;  it  also  includes  fables  and  brief  al- 
legories. In  all  of  the  Pentateuch  there  are  only  five  parables,  but 
they  abound  with  prodigal  lavishness  in  the  A gad  a of  the  Tal- 
mud, in  the  Midrash,  and  in  the  books  of  the  Apocrypha  which 
are  the  non-canonical,  extra-Biblical  writings.  The  generous  use 
of  the  parable  by  Jesus  and  the  Gospel  writers  was  but  a natural 
consequence  of  their  Jewish  intellectual  training.  Jewish  medieval 
literature  abounds  in  a wealth  of  parables. 

The  most  indefatigable  collector  and  adapter  of  the  parable 
was  Rabbi  Jacob  Krantz,  the  celebrated  “Dubner  Maggid” 
(Preacher  of  Dubno).  During  the  last  decades  of  the  Eighteenth 
Century  he  traveled  from  town  to  town  in  Poland  and  Lithuania, 
a true  wandering  preacher,  admired  and  beloved  in  all  of  Eastern 
Europe.  He  drew  vast  throngs  with  his  eloquence  and  homely 
wisdom,  making  both  moral  ideas  and  rabbinical  learning  pain- 
less and  pleasurable  with  his  delightful  story-telling  art.  Some  of 
the  parables  he  developed  from  germs  of  ideas  he  found  in 
the  Talmud  and  Midrash,  but  the  bulk  of  them  he  picked  up 
from  the  plain  folk  as  he  traveled  from  place  to  place.  They 
were  the  folktales  of  the  people,  only  he,  with  his  creative  in- 
genuity, adapted  them  to  serve  didactic  ends,  in  the  manner  of  the 
sages  of  the  Agada  and  the  Midrash.  In  turn,  the  refined  parable 
would  go  back  to  the  people  and  undergo  ceaseless  variation  and 
adaptation  at  their  hands. 

The  attitude  of  the  rabbis  of  the  Talmud  to  the  parable  was 
one  approaching  reverence.  Not  only  did  it  make  their  teachings 
easier  for  the  students  in  the  academies  to  understand,  but  it  kept 



their  congregations  from  nodding.  No  doubt  with  the  intellectual 
snobs  in  mind  the  teachers  of  the  people  wrote  adnjonishingly  in 
the  Agada:  “Do  not  despise  the  parable.  With  a penny  candle 
one  may  often  find  a lost  gold  coin  or  a costly  pearl.  By  means 
of  a trifling  simple  parable  one  may  sometimes  penetrate  into  the 
most  profound  ideas.” 

According  to  the  universally  accepted  tradition  it  was  King 
Solomon  who  “invented”  the  parable.  ‘The  Torah  until  Salomon’s 
time,”  commented  Rabbi  Nachman  in  the  Agada,  “was  compara- 
ble to  a labyrinth  with  a bewildering  number  of  rooms.  Once  one 
entered  there  one  lost  his  way  and  could  not  find  the  way  out. 
Then  along  came  Solomon  and  invented  the  parable  which  has 
served  as  a ball  of  thread.  When  tied  at  the  entrance  of  this  laby- 
rinth it  serves  as  a secure  guide  through  all  the  winding,  bewil- 
dering passages.” 

Taking  up  the  thought,  Rabbi  Nachman’s  colleague.  Rabbi 
Hanina,  said:  “Until  the  time  of  Solomon  the  Torah  could  have 
been  compared  to  a well  full  of  cool  refreshing  water,  but  be- 
cause of  its  extraordinary  depth  no  one  could  get  to  the  bottom. 
What  was  necessary  was  to  find  a rope  long  enough  to  tie  to  the 
bucket  in  order  to  bring  up  the  water.  Solomon  made  up  this 
rope  with  his  parables  and  thus  enabled  everyone  to  reach  to  the 
profoundest  depths  of  the  well.” 

A characteristic  of  the  parable  is  that  it  is  not  just  an  ingenious 
and  entertaining  story  but  it  is  wisdom  instinct  with  spirit.  It  is 
subtle  and  imaginative,  penetrating  to  the  very  heart  of  an  idea 
or  a truth.  Wise  in  the  ways  of  the  world  and  of  men,  it  is  mel- 
low in  its  common-sense  understanding  of  both  the  heights  and 
pitiful  limitations  of  the  human  being.  We  find  in  the  parable 
Truth  in  Gay  Clothes  [see  Jewish  salt,  page  13]  the  gentle  un- 
derstanding of  how  hard  it  is  for  many  people  to  accept  the 
naked  or  obvious  truth.  To  become  agreeable  to  some,  Truth 
must  first  be  adorned  in  attractive  clothes.  And  that,  concludes 
the  narrator  slyly,  is  why  Parable  is  always  seen  in  the  company 
of  Truth. 

Often  the  parable  is  a bitter  commentary  on  the  perverseness  of 
man’s  reasoning  and  conduct.  The  Poor  Man’s  Miracle,  which  the 
Preacher  of  Dubno  used  to  tell,  has  the  ironic  bite  concluding  on 
the  thought:  “Most  people  would  sooner  help  one  who  has  fallen 
than  help  keep  him  from  falling.” 

Very  often  the  parable  was  told,  not  so  much  to  instruct,  as  to 
offer  solace  to  the  Jewish  people.  And,  like  the  method  of  the 
Yiddish  literary  master,  Sholom  Aleichem,  it  sparkled  with  the 
wit  and  laughter  of  courage  in  adversity.  Such  a parable  is  The 
Last  Trouble  Is  the  Worst,  offering  to  the  sorely  beset  the  follow- 

WISE  MEN  55 

ing  ironic  moral:  “New  dangers  can  make  them  (i.e.,  the  Jews) 
forget  the  old  ones.” 


Man  Understands  But  Little 15 

All  their  lives  the  two  young  brothers  had  lived  in  the  city 
behind  great  stone  walls  and  never  saw  field  nor  meadow. 
But  one  day  they  decided  to  pay  a visit  to  the  country. 

As  they  went  walking  along  the  road  they  saw  a farmer  at 
his  plowing.  They  watched  him  and  were  puzzled. 

“What  on  earth  is  he  doing  that  for!”  they  wondered.  “He 
turns  up  the  earth  and  leaves  deep  furrows  in  it.  Why  should 
someone  take  a smooth  piece  of  land  covered  with  nice  green 
grass  and  dig  it  up?” 

Later  they  watched  the  farmer  sowing  grains  of  wheat 
along  the  furrows. 

“That  man  must  be  crazy!”  they  exclaimed.  “He  takes 
good  wheat  and  throws  it  into  the  dirt.” 

“I  don’t  like  the  country!”  said  one  in  disgust.  “Only  queer 
people  live  here.” 

So  he  returned  to  the  city. 

His  brother  who  remained  in  the  country  saw  a change 
take  place  only  several  weeks  later.  The  plowed  field  began  to 
sprout  tender  green  shoots,  even  more  beautiful  and  fresher 
than  before.  This  discovery  excited  him  very  much.  So  he 
wrote  to  his  brother  in  the  city  to  come  at  once  and  see  for 
himself  the  wonderful  change. 

His  brother  came  and  was  delighted  with  what  he  saw.  As 
time  passed  they  watched  the  sproutings  grow  into  golden 
heads  of  wheat.  Now  they  both  understood  the  purpose  of  the 
farmer’s  work. 

When  the  wheat  became  ripe  the  farmer  brought  out  his 
scythe  and  began  to  cut  it  down.  At  this  the  impatient  one  of 
the  two  brothers  exclaimed: 

“The  farmer  is  crazy!  How  hard  he  worked  all  these  months 
to  produce  this  lovely  wheat,  and  now  with  his  own  hands  he 
is  cutting  it  down!  I’m  disgusted  with  such  an  idiot  and  I’m 
going  back  to  the  city!” 

His  brother,  the  patient  one,  held  his  peace  and  remained 
in  the  country.  He  watched  the  farmer  gather  the  wheat  into 
his  granary.  He  saw  him  skillfully  separate  the  grain  from  the 
chaff.  He  was  filled  with  wonder  when  he  found  that  the 



fanner  had  harvested  a hundred-fold  of  the  seed  that  he  had 
sowed.  Then  he  understood  that  there  was  logic  in  everything 
that  the  farmer  had  done. 


Mortals  see  only  the  beginning  of  any  of  God’s  works. 
Therefore  they  cannot  understand  the  nature  and  the  end  of 

The  Poor  Man’s  Miracle 18 

No  one  showed  any  compassion  for  the  poor  man  as  he  went 
from  house  to  house  begging  for  a groschen  or  a crust  of 
bread.  Many  a door  was  slammed  in  his  face  and  he  was 
turned  away  with  insults.  Therefore  he  grew  despondent. 

One  wintry  day,  as  he  was  trudging  through  the  slippery 
streets,  he  fell  and  broke  his  leg.  Thereupon  they  took  him  to 
a hospital. 

When  the  people  of  the  town  heard  that  a poor  stranger 
had  been  taken  to  the  hospital  suffering  from  a broken  leg, 
they  began  to  feel  very  sorry  for  him.  Some  went  to  comfort 
him,  others  brought  him  good  things  to  eat.  When  he  left  the 
hospital  they  furnished  him  with  warm  clothes  and  gave  him 
a tidy  sum  of  money. 

Before  the  poor  man  left  town  he  wrote  to  his  wife, 
“Praise  God,  dear  wife!  A miracle  happened:  I broke  a leg!” 


Most  people  would  sooner  help  one  who  has  fallen  than 
help  keep  him  from  falling. 

The  Giant  and  the  Cripple « 

Two  paupers  wandered  from  town  to  town  begging  for  alms. 
One  was  a giant  who  had  never  been  sick  in  his  life,  the 
other  was  a cripple  who  had  never  known  anything  but 

The  giant  used  to  laugh  at  the  cripple  constantly.  His  un- 
fortunate companion  took  his  mockery  very  much  to  heart 
and  in  his  resentment  uttered  the  following  prayer:  “Lord  of 
the  World!  Punish  this  man  who  humiliates  me  all  the  time 
and  makes  sport  of  my  deformity,  for,  verily,  he  is  a wicked 



At  last,  the  two  paupers  reached  the  capital  city.  They  ar- 
rived just  at  the  time  when  a great  misfortune  had  happened 
to  the  king.  Two  of  his  most  trusted  servants  had  died  sud- 
denly. One  was  his  personal  bodyguard,  the  strongest  man  in 
the  land;  the  other  was  the  most  skillful  physician  among  all 
the  royal  healers.  So  the  king  sent  couriers  into  all  the  towns 
and  villages  of  his  kingdom  to  gather  into  the  capital  all  the 
strong  men  and  doctors  who  wished  to  compete  for  the  va- 
cant court  posts. 

The  king  finally  chose  one  strong  man  and  one  doctor 
from  among  all  the  applicants.  He  then  asked  them  to  furnish 
proof  of  their  fitness  for  the  posts  they  were  to  fill. 

“My  Lord  the  King!”  said  the  strong  man.  “Let  there  be 
brought  before  me  the  strongest  and  biggest  man  in  this  city 
and  I will  kill  him  with  one  blow  from  my  fist.” 

The  doctor  said,  “Give  me  the  most  helpless  cripple  you 
can  find  and  I will  make  him  well  in  one  week’s  time.” 

So  the  king  sent  messengers  scurrying  throughout  the  city 
looking  for  the  strongest  man  and  the  most  helpless  cripple. 
Luck  was  with  them,  for  on  the  street  they  chanced  upon  the 
two  paupers.  So  they  brought  them  before  the  king. 

First  came  the  strong  man,  and  with  one  blow  from  his  fist 
he  killed  the  giant.  Then  the  doctor  examined  the  cripple, 
and  after  one  week  of  treatment  he  made  him  well  again. 


The  strength  of  the  strong  proves  sometimes  their  misfor- 
tune, just  as  the  weakness  of  the  weak  ofttimes  brings  them 
good  fortune. 

The  Last  Trouble  Is  the  Worst18 

Once,  while  on  a long  journey,  a man  met  a wolf  on  the 
road.  And  when  he  escaped  from  this  danger  he  went  about 
telling  people  the  story  of  his  meeting  with  the  wolf. 

Further  on  the  road  he  met  with  a lion,  and  again  he  es- 
caped from  certain  death.  After  that,  the  man  went  about 
telling  people  of  his  escape  from  the  lion’s  jaws. 

Still  later  on  he  met  a snake.  When  he  escaped  from  its 
poisonous  fangs  he  forgot  altogether  about  the  dangers  he 
had  met  before.  He  talked  only  about  his  escape  from  the 



Similarly  with  the  Jewish  people.  New  dangers  can  make 
them  forget  the  old  ones. 

The  Parable  of  the  Wise  Fishes 19 

The  authorities  in  Rome  had  issued  a decree  forbidding  the 
Jews  to  study  the  Torah.  Thereupon,  Rabbi  Akiba  arose  and, 
at  the  risk  of  his  life,  went  about  from  town  to  town  es- 
tablishing academies.  He  himself  held  forth  in  learned  dis- 
course to  great  throngs. 

One  day  Rabbi  Akiba  met  Rabbi  Pappus  ben  Yehuda,  the 
sage  and  patriot. 

“Aren’t  you  afraid  of  the  authorities?”  asked  Pappus. 

“You  speak  like  a fool,  Pappus,  even  though  many  people 
think  you’re  wise!”  exclaimed  Rabbi  Akiba.  “Let  me  tell  you 
a parable  that  has  a bearing  on  your  question. 

“A  fox  one  day  was  walking  along  the  shore  of  a lake.  He 
noticed  that  the  little  fish  were  scurrying  to  and  fro  in  the 
water.  As  he  looked  at  them  he  had  a great  desire  to  eat 

“‘Foolish  little  fish — why  do  you  scurry  about  like  that?* 
he  asked  them. 

“ ‘We  are  fleeing  from  the  nets  of  the  fishermen,’  the  fish 

“ ‘In  that  case,’  cried  the  sly  fox,  ‘why  don’t  you  come 
ashore  and  we  will  live  like  brothers  just  as  your  parents  lived 
with  mine.’ 

“The  little  fish  laughed  and  replied,  ‘O  you  foxy  one!  You 
talk  like  a fool  even  though  many  think  you’re  clever.  What 
silly  advice  are  you  giving  us,  anyway?  If  we  are  in  constant 
fear  of  our  lives  in  the  place  where  we  live,  how  do  you  sup- 
pose it  will  be  on  dry  land  where  we  cannot  live?  Surely, 
death  awaits  us  there!’  ” 

Then  Rabbi  Akiba  concluded:  “It  is  with  us  Jews  the  same 
as  it  was  with  the  little  fish.  We  are  afraid  of  the  enemy  even 
when  we  study  the  Torah,  which  is  our  support  and  life.  Can 
you  imagine  what  fear  would  fall  upon  us  were  we  to  aban- 
don this  study?” 

Know  Before  You  Criticize 

A young,  half-baked  Talmudic  student,  while  talking  to  his 
rabbi,  expressed  a heretical  view  about  prophets  and  the 
nature  of  prophecy. 



The  rabbi  bristled  with  indignation. 

“Shame  on  you!”  he  cried.  “How  can  you  speak  that  way 
about  the  Holy  Prophets?” 

“But  that’s  not  my  own  opinion.  Rabbi,”  the  student  apolo- 
gized. “I’m  only  quoting  the  Rambam.  It’s  written  in  the 
Guide  to  the  Perplexed .” 

The  rabbi  smiled  wryly. 

“Let  me  tell  you  a parable,”  he  began. 

“A  merchant  once  came  to  buy  goods  In  a large  wholesale 
establishment.  Quite  by  accident  he  broke  the  glass  in  a show- 
case. This  filled  him  with  confusion. 

“ ‘I’m  terribly  sorry  about  this,’  he  said. 

“ ‘Oh,  that’s  all  right — it’s  only  a trifle,’  said  the  proprietor 
minimizing  the  loss.  ‘May  no  worse  damage  happen  to  me. 
Thank  God  none  of  the  flying  glass  hurt  you!  Tell  you 
what — let’s  have  a drink  of  schnapps  on  it.’ 

“So  the  two  drank  in  very  friendly  fashion,  as  if  nothing 
unpleasant  had  occurred. 

Now  there  was  a simpleton  who  saw  all  this  happen  with 
his  own  eyes.  He  was  very  much  impressed  and  said  to  him- 
self, ‘If  for  breaking  a single  pane  of  glass  the  proprietor 
gives  this  customer  a glass  of  schnapps — what  will  he  give  me 
for  breaking  his  big  front  window?  He’ll  feel  so  sorry  when 
he  sees  how  upset  I am  about  it  that,  likely  as  not,  he’ll  have 
me  drink  a whole  bottle  of  schnapps  with  him!’ 

“So  he  picked  up  a rock  and,  with  all  his  might,  threw  it  at 
the  front  window,  smashing  it.  Thereupon,  the  clerks  in  the 
store  who  had  seen  him  do  this  ran  out  and  gave  him  a good 

‘Stop,  stop,  you  fools!  Why  do  you  hit  me?’  yelled  the 
simpleton.  ‘Your  employer  gave  that  customer  a glass  of 
schnapps  to  quiet  his  nerves,  and  me  you  hit?’ 

Schlemihl!’  answered  the  proprietor.  ‘That  man  is  my 
best  customer.  If  he  broke  a pane — nu,  so  what?  But  you, 
idiot,  who  broke  my  front  store-window — what  profit  do  I get 
from  you?’  ” 

The  rabbi  then  concluded:  “It’s  the  same  with  you  and  the 
Rambam,  my  son.  About  Rabbi  Moses  ben  Maimon,  it  has 
been  said:  ‘From  Moses  our  teacher  to  Moses  ben  Maimon, 
there  has  been  no  Moses  like  unto  this  Moses.’  He  was  a 
Prince  in  Israel.  He  wrote  wonderful  books  with  deep  mean- 
ings. It  was  perfectly  all  right  for  him  to  express  a heresy,  so 
to  speak — to  break  a window  pane.  But  you,  ignoramus,  what 



have  you  done  for  the  world  to  allow  yourself  the  luxury  of 
breaking  the  store-front  window  of  our  faith?” 

The  Man  and  the  Angel  of  Death 

A man  was  carrying  a heavy  load  of  wood  on  his  shoulders. 
When  he  grew  weary  he  let  the  bundle  down  and  cried  bit- 
terly, “O  Death,  come  and  take  me!” 

Immediately,  the  Angel  of  Death  appeared  and  asked, 
“Why  do  you  call  me?” 

Frightened,  the  man  answered,  “Please  help  me  place  the 
load  back  on  my  shoulders.” 


Even  though  life  has  its  griefs  man  prefers  a life  of 
wretchedness  to  death. 

Barking  Dogs 

A preacher  once  came  to  town  and  entered  the  synagogue. 
When  he  went  up  to  the  rostrum  to  speak  the  audience  began 
to  make  a terrific  racket  and  rudely  yelled,  “We  don’t  want 
any  preachers  here!  We  won’t  stand  for  sermons  in  this 

So  the  preacher  asked  the  sexton  to  tell  the  audience  that 
he  had  no  intention  of  preaching.  He  merely  wanted  to  tell  a 
short  story  about  a Jewish  merchant.  The  story  was  a good 
one  and  the  audience  would  enjoy  it. 

The  audience  agreed  and  the  preacher  began  to  tell  the  fol- 
lowing story: 

“Once  a Jew  was  walking  along  the  street  with  bowed 
head,  looking  greatly  worried.  On  the  way  he  met  an  ac- 
quaintance, a kindhearted  old  man. 

“ ‘What’s  wrong  with  you.  Uncle?  What  has  happened  to 
make  you  look  so  distracted?’ 

“ ‘Why  shouldn’t  I be  worried?  I suffer  from  a great  mis- 
fortune and  it’s  the  more  aggravating  because  it’s  on  account 
of  a trifle. 

“ ‘As  you  know,  I am  a merchant.  At  present  I’m  negotiat- 
ing with  the  local  nobleman  about  an  important  business 
deal.  I have  the  bright  prospect  of  earning  quite  a bit  of 
money  on  it.  This  would  indeed  be  very  welcome  because  it 
would  enable  me  to  marry  off  my  daughter  and  still  have  a 



neat  sum  left  for  myself.  Unfortunately,  I cannot  close  the 
deal  on  account  of  an  idiotic  trifle.  The  nobleman  invited  me 
to  his  house  and  when  I entered  the  courtyard  a pack  of  an- 
gry dogs  fell  upon  me  like  tigers  and  wanted  to  tear  me  to 
pieces.  I ran  away  almost  leaving  my  soul  behind.’ 

“ ‘Rest  easy,’  the  old  man  then  told  him.  ‘I  have  good  ad- 
vice for  you.  Go  again  to  the  nobleman  and  utter  the  follow- 
ing words  of  the  psalmist  when  the  savage  dogs  come  out: 

“ * “Cease  from  anger,  and  forsake  wrath!”  Then  you’ll  see 
that  they  will  stop  their  barking  and  will  start  licking  your 
hands  like  lambs.’ 

“The  merchant  went  again  to  the  nobleman  and  entered 
his  courtyard.  But  the  dogs  fell  upon  him  as  fiercely  as  be- 
fore, and  before  even  he  had  a chance  to  recite  the  words  of 
the  psalmist,  they  nearly  tore  him  to  bits.  He  barely  escaped 
with  his  life. 

“Thereupon  he  went  back  to  the  old  man  who  asked  him, 
‘Did  the  psalm  help?’ 

“The  merchant  heaved  a deep  sigh  and  replied,  ‘Possibly  it 
would  have  helped  but  to  my  misfortune  they  were  such 
nasty  dogs  they  wouldn’t  even  give  me  a chance  to  begin.’ 

“This,  my  friends,”  concluded  the  preacher,  “is  the  short 
story  I wanted  to  tell  you.” 

He  then  descended  the  rostrum  and  quickly  left  the 

The  Rosebush  and  the  Apple  Tree 20 

A rosebush  grew  near  an  apple  tree.  Everybody  admired  the 
beauty  and  the  sweet  scent  of  its  roses.  Seeing  how  everyone 
was  praising  it  the  rosebush  became  vainglorious. 

“Who  can  compare  to  me?  And  who  is  as  important  as  I?” 
it  asked.  “My  roses  are  a delight  to  the  eye  and  the  most 
fragrant  among  all  flowers.  True  enough,  the  apple  tree  is 
much  larger  than  I,  but  does  it  afford  as  much  pleasure  to 

The  apple  tree  answered:  “Even  were  you  taller  than  I, 
with  all  your  vaunted  loveliness  and  all  your  sweet 
fragrance — you  still  could  not  compare  to  me  in  kindhearted- 

“Let  me  hear!”  the  rosebush  asked  challengingly.  “What 
are  the  virtues  you  boast  of?” 

The  apple  tree  answered:  “You  do  not  give  your  flowers  to 



people  unless  you  first  prick  them  with  your  thorns.  I,  on  the 
other  hand,  give  my  fruit  even  to  those  who  throw  stones  at 

The  Parable  of  the  Old  Cloak21 

A strip  of  new  linen  lying  upon  the  table  was  very  proud  of 
its  beauty  and  fine  quality. 

“What  a handsome  garment  I will  make!”  it  exclaimed 

Suddenly,  the  strip  of  linen  noticed  a soiled,  well-worn 
cloak  that  had  been  thrown  carelessly  into  a corner.  Scorn- 
fully, the  new  linen  said  to  the  old  cloak,  “Woe  to  you,  you 
hideous  old  rag!  What  a drab  appearance  you  make!” 

Several  days  passed  and  the  owner  of  the  new  linen  sewed 
himself  a garment  from  it.  Nonetheless,  when  he  went  out 
upon  the  street  he  put  on  his  old  cloak  over  it.  When  the  hew 
garment  recognized  the  old  cloak  it  was  filled  with  resent- 

“How  did  you  suddenly  become  so  important  as  to  be 
above  me?”  it  inquired. 

The  old  cloak  answered:  “First  they  brought  me  to  be 
laundered.  They  dealt  me  heavy  blows  with  paddles  until  they 
beat  the  dust,  the  sand  and  the  mud  out  of  me.  When  they 
had  finished  I said  to  myself:  ‘It  certainly  was  worth  all  that 
pain  to  become  clean  again!  Just  look  at  me!  Don’t  I look 
better  and  handsomer  than  before?’  And,  as  I was  thinking 
thus,  they  threw  me  into  a kettle  of  hot  water,  and  after  that 
into  a kettle  of  tepid  water.  They  washed,  rinsed,  dried  and 
pressed  me.  And,  suddenly,  I saw  that  I had  been  trans- 
formed into  a handsome  garment!  I then  realized  that  before 
one  can  be  elevated  one  must  first  suffer.” 

The  Ancient  Art  of  Reasoning 


The  use  of  the  Talmudic  art  of  reasoning,  tortuous  and  oblique 
in  its  technique  as  it  may  sometimes  appear,  is  frequently  applied 
in  humorous  tales  and  anecdotes  for  the  discomfiture  of  the 
wicked,  the  pretentious  and  the  designing. 

Sometimes  Talmudic  logic  by  its  realistic  application  finds  com- 
mon sense  answers  to  the  most  perplexing  of  human  problems. 
This  adroit  use  of  casuistry  is  found  in  the  classic  Yiddish  anec- 



dote:  It  Could  Always  Be  Worse.  By  viewing  trouble  relatively 
and  from  the  perspective  of  the  totality  of  all  troubles,  it  loses 
some  of  its  alarming  character.  Such  wryly  humorous  anecdotes 
have  arisen  in  great  profusion  among  Jews  and  represent  a highly 
individual  type  of  folklore  which  is  social  documentation  in  the 
most  genuine  sense. 


Always  Two  Possibilities 

War  was  on  the  horizon.  Two  students  in  the  Yeshiva  were 
discussing  the  situation. 

‘I  hope  I’m  not  called,”  said  one.  “I’m  not  the  type  for 
war.  I have  the  courage  of  the  spirit,  but  nevertheless  I shrink 
from  it.” 

“But  what  is  there  to  be  frightened  about?”  asked  the 
other.  Lets  analyze  it.  After  all,  there  are  two  possibilities: 
either  war  will  break  out,  or  it  won’t.  If  it  doesn’t,  there’s  no 
cause  for  alarm.  If  it  does,  there  are  two  possibilities:  either 
they  take  you  Air  they  don’t  take  you.  If  they  don’t,  alarm  is 
needless.  And  even  if  they  do,  there  are  two  possibilities:  ei- 
ther you’re  given  combat  duty,  or  non-combatant  duty.  If 
non-combatant,  what  is  there  to  be  worried  about?  And  if 
combat  duty,  there  are  two  possibilities:  you’ll  be  wounded, 
or  you  won’t  be  wounded.  Now,  if  you’re  not  wounded,  you 
can  forget  your  fears.  But  even  if  you  are  wounded,  there  are 
two  possibilities:  either  you’re  wounded  gravely,  or  you’re 
wounded  slightly.  If  you’re  wounded  slightly,  your  fear  is 
nonsensical,  and  if  you’re  wounded  gravely,  there  are  still 
two  possibilities:  either  you  succumb,  and  die,  or  you  don’t 
succumb,  and  you  live.  If  you  don’t  die,  things  are  fine,  and 
there  s no  cause  for  alarm;  and  even  if  you  do  die,  there  are 
two  possibilities;  either  you  will  be  buried  in  a Jewish  ceme- 
tery, or  you  won’t  be.  Now,  if  you  are  buried  in  a Jewish 
cemetery,  what  is  there  to  worry  about,  and  even  if  you  are 
not  . . . but  why  be  afraid?  There  may  not  be  any  war  at 
all!”  . 

It  Could  Always  Be  Worse 

The  poor  Jew  had  come  to  the  end  of  his  rope.  So  he  went  to 
his  rabbi  for  advice. 

Holy  Rabbi!”  he  cried.  “Things  are  in  a bad  way  with  me, 



and  are  getting  worse  all  the  time!  We  are  poor,  so  poor,  that 
my  wife,  my  six  children,  my  in-laws  and  I have  to  live  in  a 
one-room  hut.  We  get  in  each  other’s  way  all  the  time.  Our 
nerves  are  frayed  and,  because  we  have  plenty  of  troubles,  we 
quarrel.  Believe  me — my  home  is  a hell  and  I’d  sooner  die 
than  continue  living  this  way!” 

The  rabbi  pondered  the  matter  gravely.  “My  son,”  he  said, 
“promise  to  do  as  I tell  you  and  your  condition  will  im- 

“I  promise,  Rabbi,”  answered  the  troubled  man.  “I’ll  do 
anything  you  say.” 

‘Tell  me — what  animals  do  you  own?” 

“I  have  a cow,  a goat  and  some  chickens.” 

“Very  well!  Go  home  now  and  take  all  these  animals  into 
your  house  to  live  with  you.” 

The  poor  man  was  dumbfounded,  but  since  he  had 
promised  the  rabbi,  he  went  home  and  brought  all  the  ani- 
mals into  his  house. 

The  following  day  the  poor  man  returned  to  the  rabbi  and 
cried,  “Rabbi,  what  misfortune  have  you  brought  upon  me!  I 
did  as  you  told  me  and  brought  the  animals  into  the  house. 
And  now  what  have  I got?  Things  are  worse  than  ever!  My 
life  is  a perfect  hell — the  house  is  turned  into  a bam!  Save 
me.  Rabbi — help  me!” 

“My  son,”  replied  the  rabbi  serenely,  “go  home  and  take 
the  chickens  out  of  your  house.  God  will  help  you!” 

So  the  poor  man  went  home  and  took  the  chickens  out  of 
his  house.  But  it  was  not  long  before  he  again  came  running 
to  the  rabbi. 

“Holy  Rabbi!”  he  wailed.  “Help  me,  save  me!  The  goat  is 
smashing  everything  in  the  house — she’s  turning  my  life  into 
a nightmare.” 

“Go  home,”  said  the  rabbi  gently,  “and  take  the  goat  out 
of  the  house.  God  will  help  you!” 

The  poor  man  returned  to  his  house  and  removed  the  goat 
But  it  wasn’t  long  before  he  again  came  running  to  the  rabbi, 
lamenting  loudly,  “What  a misfortune  you’ve  brought  upon 
my  head,  Rabbi!  The  cow  has  turned  my  house  into  a stable! 
How  can  you  expect  a human  being  to  live  side  by  side  with 
an  animal?” 

“You’re  right — a hundred  times  right!”  agreed  the  rabbi. 
“Go  straight  home  and  take  the  cow  out  of  your  house!” 



And  the  poor  unfortunate  hastened  home  and  took  the  cow 
out  of  his  house. 

Not  a day  had  passed  before  he  came  running  again  to  the 
rabbi.  “Rabbi!”  cried  the  poor  man,  his  face  beaming. 
“You’ve  made  life  sweet  again  for  me.  With  all  the  animals 
out,  the  house  is  so  quiet,  so  roomy,  and  so  cleanl  What  a 

Wishes  Must  Never  Be  Vague 22 

A Jew  was  once  trudging  along  the  highway.  From  much 
walking  his  feet  began  to  ache.  So  he  prayed,  “O  Lord!  If  I 
only  had  an  ass  to  ride!” 

No  sooner  had  he  uttered  these  words  than  a Roman 
trotted  by.  The  ass  on  which  he  rode  had  given  birth  to  a 
little  ass. 

“Here,  fellow,”  cried  the  Roman.  ‘Take  this  little  ass  on 
your  shoulders  and  carry  it  for  me!” 

So  the  Jew  did  as  he  was  ordered  and  he  trudged  behind 
the  Roman  with  the  little  ass  on  his  shoulders.  As  he  stag- 
gered along,  bent  double  under  his  burden,  he  said  to  himself, 
“Truly,  my  prayer  has  been  fulfilled!  To  my  misfortune,  how- 
ever, I did  not  express  my  wish  clearly  enough.  I should  have 
stipulated  that  I wished  to  have  an  ass  for  me  to  ride — not 
one  to  ride  me!” 

Damning  with  Praise 

The  Rabbi  of  Tamow,  hearing  that  the  post  of  rabbi  was 
open  in  Sambor,  applied  for  it.  One  Sabbath  afternoon  he 
preached  there  in  the  synagogue,  but  the  congregation. didn’t 
like  him  and  turned  him  down. 

Disheartened,  he  returned  home  the  following  day.  On  the 
way  he  met  his  old  acquaintance,  the  Rabbi  of  Landshut,  and 
he  unburdened  his  heavy  heart  to  him. 

“Was  that  a nice  thing  to  do  to  me.  Rabbi?”  he  asked, 
boiling  over. 

“To  be  frank  with  you,”  replied  the  Rabbi  of  Landshut, 
“the  people  of  Sambor  are  perfectly  right.  Furthermore,  go- 
ing a little  deeper  into  the  matter,  I think  I have  more  right 
to  the  Sambor  post  than  you.” 

“How  so?” 

“It’s  clear  as  daylight.  In  your  case,  all  of  Tamow  would 
like  to  see  you  Rabbi  of  Sambor.  In  my  case  it’s  the  same. 



All  of  Landshut  would  like  me  to  become  Rabbi  of  Sambor. 
But  because  my  town  is  bigger  than  yours,  I believe  I have  a 
better  right  to  the  post.” 

Seeing  that  the  Rabbi  of  Tamow  grew  despondent,  the 
Rabbi  of  Landshut  hastened  to  say,  “But  don’t  take  that  to 
heart,  brother.  Let  me  assure  you  that  if  the  post  of  Rabbi  of 
Cracow  were  vacant  you’d  have  a better  right  to  it  than  1. 
You  see,  in  my  case  only  the  Jews  of  Landshut  would  like 
me  to  become  Rabbi  of  Cracow,  but  in  your  case  not  only 
the  Jews  of  Tamow  but  also  the  Jews  of  Sambor  would  like 
to  see  you  Rabbi  of  Cracow.  And  against  such  a combination 
I couldn’t  beat  you!” 

A Brief  Sermon 

The  Rabbi  of  Ropshitz  was  a great  scholar  but  had  eccentric 
habits.  He  would  concentrate  on  some  particular  point  in  his 
studies  to  the  utter  neglect  of  his  routine  duties.  One  Sabbath 
day  he  mounted  the  rostrum  to  preach,  but  suddenly  panic 
seized  him.  He  faltered  for  only  a moment.  Then  he  plunged 
into  his  sermon.  t 

“How  should  a rabbi  preach?”  he  asked. 

“He  must  always  preach  what  is  true,”  he  answered  him- 
self. “His  sermon  must  be  brief  and  to  the  point  and  his  sub- 
ject must  be  based  on  the  Scriptural  ‘portion’  of  the  week. 
Since  a rabbi  must  speak  the  truth,  I would  like  to  say  that  I 
have  no  idea  what  this  week’s  ‘portion’  is.  Now,  that  I have 
spoken  briefly  and  to  the  point  and  have  based  my  sermon  on 
the  subject  of  the  Scriptural  ‘portion,’  I wish  to  conclude  and 
say,  ‘Amen.’  ” 

Mikhail  Ivanovitch  Makes  a Discovery 

In  A certain  town  there  lived  a rabbi  who  had  taken  on  his 
holy  calling  late  in  life.  Once,  when  he  was  asked  about  it,  he 

“Let  me  tell  you  the  story  about  Mikhail  Ivanovitch. 

“Now  this  Mikhail  was  a great  soak.  He  used  to  roll  in  ev- 
ery gutter  of  the  town,  drunk  as  Lot. 

“One  day,  the  landowner’s  small  boys  decided  to  play  a 
prank  on  him.  So,  while  he  lay  in  a ditch,  they  dressed  him  in 
an  Orthodox  Russian  priest’s  black  robe  and  high  stovepipe 



“When  Mikhail  finally  sobered  up  and  rubbed  his  eyes,  he 
could  not  believe  what  he  saw. 

“ ‘What  the  devil  am  I doing  in  a priest’s  outfit?’  he  won- 
dered. Can  it  be — Lord  preserve  me — that  I’ve  become  a 
priest — or  is  it  only  a drunken  dream?’ 

“Carefully,  he  felt  his  priestly  garments  from  top  to  bot- 

“ ‘They’re  real  as  life!’  he  muttered  to  himself. 

“There  was  only  one  conclusion:  somehow,  sometime,  he 
had  become  a priest! 

“Bewildered  by  his  discovery  he  lay  with  closed  eyes, 
thinking  hard. 

Let  s see  now,’  he  speculated.  ‘If  the  priest’s  breviary  is 
m my  pocket,  then  I’m  surely  a priest.’ 

So  he  stuck  his  hand  in  his  pocket  and,  sure  enough,  he 
drew  out  a breviary. 

“ ‘So,  I’m  actually  a priest!’  he  laughed. 

Still  he  would  not  believe  it.  He  suspected  something  was 
somewhere.  He  needed  more  proof. 

u Lst’s  see  now  if  I can  read,’  he  speculated  further. 

(So  he  opened  the  breviary  and  dug  his  nose  into  it. 

“ ‘No  luck!’  he  muttered,  dejected.  ‘I  can’t  read.  It’s  proof, 
then,  I’m  no  priest  at  all.  On  the  other  hand,  how  do  I know 
that  a priest  must  know  how  to  read?  I’ll  go  to  the  priest  and 
find  out  if  he  can  read.’ 

“He  found  the  priest  at  home. 

“ ‘I’ve  come  to  find  out  whether  you  can  read,’  Mikhail 
Ivanovitch  said,  handing  him  the  breviary. 

“The  priest  put  on  his  spectacles  and  dug  his  hose  into  the 

“ ‘I’m  afraid  not,’  he  said.  ‘I  can’t  read.’ 

“ ‘In  that  case,’  cried  Mikhail,  overjoyed,  ‘I’m  a priest!’  ” 

The  old  rabbi  then  concluded,  “It  was  the  same  with  me  as 
with  Mikhail  Ivanovitch.  At  first  I thought  I didn’t  know 
enough  to  be  a rabbi.  So  I studied  night  and  day,  year  in  and 
year  out,  in  order  to  become  worthy  of  the  rabbinate.  Later, 
however,  I discovered  to  my  amazement  that  other  rabbis 
didn’t  know  much  either,  so  I said:  ‘Now  I see  I can  be  a 
rabbi  too!’  ” 



The  Cheapest  Way 

The  wonder-working  rabbi  held  forth  learnedly  before  his 
disciples.  He  told  them  a story  out  of  the  Midrash: 

“Once,  ah  infant  was  abandoned  in  the  forest  by  an  unfor- 
tunate mother  who  was  too  poor  to  feed  it.  So  it  lay  there 
alone  among  the  trees  and  cried  and  cried.  A woodcarrier 
heard  it  and  came  running  to  where  it  lay.  He  picked  it  up 
and  hushed  its  cries.  While  he  was  kind  and  gentle  he  was 
also  very  poor.  How  could  he  buy  milk  for  the  infant,  for  he 
hadn’t  earned  a kreutzer  all  day? 

“So  what  do  you  think  God  did?  He  caused  a miracle  to 
happen,  the  kind  of  miracle  that  hasn’t  happened  since  the 
creation:  He  made  a mother’s  breasts  grow  on  the  woodcar- 
rier] This  miracle  the  good  man  understood  to  be  a command 
from  God.  So  he  went  home  and  suckled  the  infant  without  it 
even  costing  him  a kreutzer!” 

When  the  rabbi  had  finished  his  story  he  looked  around 
him.  Amazement  was  written  on  every  face.  Only  one  of  the 
disciples  had  a troubled  look  on  his  face. 

“Don’t  you  like  this  story?”  the  rabbi  asked  him. 

“No,  not  very  much,”  muttered  the  man.  “I  just  don’t  un- 
derstand it!  It  seems  to  me  that  God’s  mercy  could  have  been 
shown  in  other  ways  without  having  to  reverse  the  laws  of 
nature.  Why  did  God  have  to  give  the  man  a mother’s 
breasts?  For  instance,  He  could  just  as  easily  have  dropped 
down  from  heaven  a bag  with  a thousand  gulden.  Then  the 
poor  man  could  have  engaged  a wet-nurse  to  suckle  the  in- 

The  rabbi  mused,  “It’s  not  so,  not  so,  my  friend!  You’re  a 
sensible  man — say  yourself:  If  God  has  the  power  to  make 
breasts  grow  on  the  woodcarrier  why  should  He  lay  out  a 
thousand  gulden  in  cold  cash?” 

Why  Scholars  Have  Homely  Wives 

An  inquisitive  young  Talmudist  asked  his  rabbi,  “Why  is  it 
that  most  pious  men  and  scholars  marry  homely  wives?  Is, 
that  their  just  reward?” 

“Let  me  tell  you  a story,”  answered  the  rabbi.  “A  rich  man 
once  invited  some  strangers  to  dinner.  Unluckily,  the  cook 
burned  the  greater  part  of  the  roast  so  the  hostess,  out  of 
courtesy,  had  the  good  portions  served  to  the  guests.  The 
members  of  the  family  were  given  the  burned  parts  to  eat. 


« 9 

Now,  my  son,  this  also  holds  true  with  regard  to  the 
women  apportioned  to  pious  scholars.  The  Almighty  in  His 
wisdom  created  good-looking,  amiable  girls  as  well  as 
homely,  shrewish  girls.  The  pretty  ones,  out  of  courtesy,  He 
allots  to  the  strangers,  the  libertines— the  homely  ones  He 
reserves  for  the  pious  scholars  who  are,  after  all,  members  of 
His  own  family.” 

The  Arrogant  Rabbi 

Once  there  was  a rabbi  whose  son  was  also  a rabbi.  Whereas 
the  father  was  gentle  and  considerate,  the  son  was  aloof  and 
arrogant  For  that  reason  he  had  no  success  with  his  congre- 

One  day,  when  he  complained  about  this  to  his  father,  the 
old  man  said,  “My  son,  the  difference  between  your  ways  and 
mine  as  rabbi  is  this:  when  someone  puts  a difficult  question 
°f  Torah  to  me,  and  I give  him  an  answer,  my  questioner  is 
satisfied  and  I’m  satisfied — my  questioner  with  his  question, 
and  I with  my  answer.  But,  when  someone  asks  you  a ques- 
tion, both  of  you  remain  unsatisfied : your  questioner  because 
you  tell  him  his  question  is  no  question,  and  you,  because 
you  don’t  give  him  an  answer.” 

Love  of  Perfection 23 

Rabbi  Simeon  Ben  Gamaliel  once  stood  on  Mount  Moriah 
and  saw  a woman  pass  by.  She  was  unusually  beautiful. 

As  he  looked  at  her  Rabbi  Simeon  exclaimed,  “Wondrous 
indeed  is  your  handiwork,  Almighty  God!” 

Did  Rabbi  Simeon  grow  enthusiastic  over  the  woman? 

No,  he  only  admired  the  perfection  of  the  Creator’s  handi- 

Wise  Judges 


If  it  was  important  to  have  wise  teachers  and  scholars  as  an  in- 
dispensable social  necessity  it  was  no  less  desirable  to  have  wise 
and  incorruptible  judges.  “To  do  justice  and  judgment  is  more  ac- 
ceptable to  the  Lord  than  sacrifice,”  the  proverb  states.  While 
wise  judges  are  extolled  in  Jewish  folktales  they  are  invariably  de- 



lineated  as  scrupulously  honest  men  who  have  both  the  will  and 
the  courage  to  cut  through  the  underbrush  of  deceit  and  legal 
technicalities  in  order  to  discover  the  truth  and  to  dispense  jus- 
tice. According  to  the  Jewish  view  a corrupt  judge  cannot  be  a 
wise  judge.  “Presents  and  gifts  blind  the  eyes  of  the  wise,”  dourly 
reflects  the  worldly  Ben  Sira. 

In  the  legendary  lore  of  the  Jews  concerning  wise  judges,  King 
Solomon  naturally  takes  the  foremost  place.  Who  is  not  familiar 
with  his  stratagem  to  discover  the  child’s  true  mother?  However, 
much  more  profound  and  ethically  stirring  was  his  judgment  in 
the  litigation  between  the  otter  and  the  weasel  in  the  fable:  Whose 
Was  the  Blame?  It  concludes  on  the  stern  moral:  “He  that  soweth 
death  shall  reap  it.”  More  significant  yet,  this  fable  gives  devout 
utterance  to  the  Jewish  ideal  of  the  sanctity  of  all  life. 

In  the  parable.  The  Saving  Voice,  we  see  the  traditional  bend- 
ing backward  by  the  rabbinic  judge  in  order  not  to  be  the  cause 
of  possible  injustice.  Better  to  let  ten  guilty  ones  go  unpunished 
than  to  unjustly  condemn  an  innocent  man!  And  the  ethical  con- 
clusion of  the  story:  “To  do  a man  harm  requires  a decision 
from  a high  authority — to  save  him  from  harm,  only  a word 
from  the  most  insignificant  person.”  It  vividly  recalls  God’s 
promise  to  spare  the  wicked  city  of  Sodom  if  only  ten  good  men 
be  found  in  it.  This  ethical  attitude  is  made  explicit  even  in  the 
many  jests  and  anecdotes  in  wide  currency  among  Jews.  It  is 
present  in  the  merry  story,  He  Didn’t  Deserve  His  Fee.  If  the 
rabbi  sitting  in  judgment  here  became  a casuist  and  juggled 
deftly  with  legal  technicalities  and  verbal  sleight  of  hand  it  was 
not  with  the  intention  of  confusing  the  issue  before  him  or  to 
pervert  justice.  On  the  contrary,  it  was  to  defend  a poor  man  in 
adversity  against  a heartless  and  mercenary  doctor. 

The  Old  Man  and  the  Snake  and  the  Judgment  of  Solomon 24 

It  came  to  pass  in  the  time  of  King  David,  when  his  son  Sol- 
omon was  still  a young  lad,  that  an  old  man,  walking  along 
the  road  in  winter  time,  found  a half  frozen  snake  in  the 
road.  The  old  man,  bethinking  himself  of  the  command  to 
take  pity  on  all  creatures,  put  the  snake  into  his  bosom  to 
warm  it.  No  sooner  did  the  snake  recover  than  it  coiled  itself 
round  the  man’s  body  and  squeezed  him  so  hard  that  he 
nearly  died.  And  the  old  man  said  to  the  snake,  “Why  do  you 
harm  me  and  try  to  kill  me  when  I saved  your  life?  If  not  for 
me  you  would  have  frozen  to  death.”  Continuing,  the  old 
man  said:  ‘Let  us  go  before  the  court  that  they  may  decide 



whether  you  are  treating  me  justly.”  The  snake  replied:  “I 
am  willing  to  do  so,  but  to  whom  shall  we  go?”  The  old  man 
replied:  “To  the  very  first  thing  we  meet.”  So  they  walked  to- 
gether, and  first  they  met  an  ox.  The  old  man  said  to  the  ox: 
“Stand  still  and  judge  between  us.”  And  he  related  to  him 
how  he  had  saved  the  snake  from  death,  and  now  the  snake 
was  doing  all  in  its  power  to  kill  him.  The  snake  replied:  “I 
am  acting  properly,  for  it  is  written  in  Holy  Scripture,  ‘I  will 
put  enmity  between  the  man  and  the  snake’  ” (cf.  Gen. 
3.15).  The  ox  replied:  “The  snake  is  right  in  doing  you 
harm,  though  you  have  treated  it  kindly,  for  such  is  the  way 
of  the  world,  that  if  one  does  good  to  another,  he  returns  evil 
for  good.  My  own  master  does  the  same.  I work  all  day  long 
in  the  field  and  benefit  him  a great  deal,  and  yet  in  the  eve- 
ning he  eats  the  best  and  to  me  he  gives  a little  oats  and 
straw.  My  master  lies  in  a bed  and  I must  lie  in  the  open 
yard  on  straw,  where  the  rain  comes  down  upon  me.  This  is 
the  way  of  the  world,  and  therefore  the  snake  is  right  in 
wishing  to  kill  you,  although  you  have  saved  its  life.”  The  old 
man  was  very  much  hurt  by  these  words.  Farther  on,  they 
met  an  ass.  Addressing  the  ass,  they  said  the  same  to  it  as 
they  had  said  to  the  ox.  And  the  ass  replied  in  the  same  man- 
ner as  the  ox  had  done. 

Then  the  old  man  came  before  King  David  and  com- 
plained of  the  snake.  King  David  replied:  “The  snake  is 
right.  Why  did  you  not  carry  out  the  word  of  the  Scripture, 
which  says:  ‘I  will  put  enmity  between  you  and  the  snake’? 
Therefore  I cannot  help  you.  You  did  wrong  in  warming  the 
snake.  You  should  have  let  it  die,  for  the  snake  is  our  en- 

The  old  man  left  the  king  with  tears  in  his  eyes,  and  as  he 
walked  on,  he  met  young  Solomon  in  the  field  near  a well. 
He  had  dropped  a stick  into  the  well  and  was  ordering  the 
servants  who  were  with  him  to  dig  deeper  below  the  source 
of  the  well,  so  that  the  water  should  run  into  the  well  and  fill 
it,  and  thus  carry  the  stick  up,  so  that  he  could  reach  it. 
When  the  old  man  saw  this,  he  said  to  himself:  “He  must  be 
a clever  lad,  I will  put  my  case  before  him,  maybe  he  can 
protect  me  from  the  snake,”  and  he  told  him  the  story  of 
what  had  befallen  him  with  the  snake.  Solomon  replied: 
“Have  you  not  been  before  my  father?”  And  the  old  man 
said:  “Yes,  I have  been  there,  but  he  said  he  could  not  help 
me-  Young  Solomon  said:  “Let  us  go  to  him  again.” 



So  they  went  together  again  before  King  David,  and  the 
old  man  had  a stick  in  his  hand  upon  which  he  leaned.  When 
they  appeared  before  King  David,  Solomon  said:  “Why  do 
you  not  deliver  judgment  between  this  man  and  the  snake?” 
and  King  David  replied:  “I  have  no  judgment  to  declare.  It 
serves  him  right.  Why  did  he  not  keep  what  is  written  in  the 
Torah?”  Then  Solomon  said:  “Dear  father,  give  me  leave  to 
pronounce  judgment  between  the  two.”  King  David  replied: 
“Dear  son,  if  you  think  you  can  do  so,  go  ahead  without  hesi- 
tation.” Then  young  Solomon,  turning  to  the  snake,  said: 
“Why  do  you  do  evil  to  a man  who  has  done  you  good?” 
And  the  snake  replied:  “The  Lord,  blessed  be  He,  has  com- 
manded me  to  bite  the  heel  of  the  man.”  Then  Solomon  said: 
“Do  you  desire  to  observe  the  Torah  and  what  is  written 
therein?”  And  the  snake  replied:  “Yes,  most  willingly.”  Then 
Solomon  said:  “If  you  desire  to  do  what  is  written  in  the  To- 
rah, then  release  the  man  and  stand  on  the  ground  beside 
him,  for  it  says  in  the  Law  that  the  two  men  who  have  a 
quarrel  with  one  another  must  stand  before  the  judge  (cf. 
Deut.  19.17),  therefore  you  must  also  stand  alongside  of 
him.”  The  snake  replied:  “I  am  satisfied  to  do  so”;  and, 
uncoiling  itself  from  the  man,  he  stood  next  to  him.  Then 
Solomon  said  to  the  old  man:  “Now  do  to  the  snake  as  it  is 
written  in  the  Law,  for  it  is  written  in  the  Torah  that  you 
should  crush  the  snake’s  head  (cf.  Gen.  3.15).  Therefore  do 
as  is  written  in  the  Torah,  for  the  snake  has  promised  to  ao* 
cept  the  judgment  of  the  Law.”  The  good  old  man  had  a 
stick  in  his  hand  which  he  used  in  walking,  for  he  was  a very 
old  man.  So  he  lifted  the  stick  and  smote  the  snake  on  the 
head  and  killed  it.  And  so  the  clever  Solomon  saved  the  old 
man  from  the  snake  through  his  great  wisdom. 

Therefore,  no  one  should  do  good  to  a wicked  creature,  as 
the  old  man  did. 

Whose  Was  the  Blame T28 

An  otter  came  one  day  and  complained  before  King  Solo- 
mon, saying:  “Alas!  my  Lord  and  my  King!  Was  it  not  thou 
that  didst  spread  good  tidings  of  peace  and  truth  to  all  dwell- 
ers upon  the  earth  in  thy  time?  Didst  thou  not  likewise  or- 
dain peace  between  one  wild  creature  and  another?” 

“And  who  hath  broken  this  peace?”  asked  Solomon. 

“I  went  down  into  the  water,”  answered  the  otter,  “to  hunt 



for  food,  and  my  whelps  I had  entrusted  into  the  hand  of  the 
weasel.  But  it  rose  up  against  them  and  destroyed  them.  And 
now  the  blood  of  my  innocent  children  crieth  out  to  me, 
Death  to  the  Slayer!” 

And  the  King  commanded  that  the  weasel  be  brought  be- 
fore him,  and  he  inquired  of  it: 

“Was  it  thou  that  slew  the  otter’s  children?” 

And  the  weasel  said: 

“It  was  I,  my  lord  the  King,  but,  as  the  King  liveth,  it  was 
not  with  intent  or  evil  purpose.  I heard  the  woodpecker  as  he 
thundered  with  his  beak,  giving  forth  the  sound  of  the  drum, 
proclaiming  the  summons  to  war.  And  so  it  was  that,  as  I 
sped  to  the  battle,  I trampled  on  the  children,  but  it  was  not 
with  evil  purpose.” 

And  the  King  called  the  woodpecker  and  asked: 

“Didst  thou  sound  an  alarm  to  summon  people  to  the  fight 
with  a thundering  of  the  drum?” 

And  the  woodpecker  answered: 

“I  did  so,  my  Lord  the  King.  But  I did  so  because  I saw 
the  scorpion  whetting  its  dagger.” 

And  the  King  called  the  scorpion  and  asked: 

“Why  wast  thou  whetting  thy  dagger?” 

And  the  scorpion  answered: 

“Because  I saw  the  tortoise  furbishing  its  armor.” 

And  when  the  tortoise  was  inquired  of,  it  said  in  its  de- 

“Because  I saw  the  crab  sharpening  its  sword.” 

And  the  crab  answered: 

“Because  I saw  the  lobster  swinging  its  javelin.” 

And  the  King  commanded  the  lobster  to  be  brought,  and 
he  reproved  it,  saying: 

“Why  didst  thou  swing  thy  javelin?” 

And  the  lobster  answered  and  said: 

“Because  I saw  the  otter  going  down  into  the  water  to  de- 
vour my  children.” 

Then  the  King  looked  towards  the  otter,  and  said: 

“The  weasel  is  not  guilty.  The  blood  of  thy  children  is  on 
thine  own  head.  He  that  soweth  death  shall  reap  it.” 

A Very  Ancient  Law 

Rabbi  Elijah,  the  Gaon  of  Vilna,  had  a distaste  for  presid- 
ing over  the  routine  affairs  of  the  Jewish  community.  He  was 



a great  Talmudic  scholar,  and  he  found  that  his  studies  suf- 
fered when  he  became  involved  in  trifling  disputes.  Ac- 
cordingly, there  was  a tacit  understanding  that  under  no 
circumstances  was  he  to  be  called  to  communal  meetings 
unless  a new  law  was  to  be  legislated. 

On  one  occasion  he  was  summoned  by  the  communal  lead- 
ers for  an  emergency  meeting.  When  he  arrived  he  listened 
with  shocked  amazement  to  the  proposal  that  poor  Jews  liv- 
ing outside  the  city  of  Vilna  should  not  be  allowed  to  come 
into  the  city  to  collect  alms. 

Rabbi  Elijah  arose  and  asked,  “Is  it  for  this  proposal  that 
you  have  taken  me  away  from  my  studies?  I was  under  the 
impression  that  this  meeting  was  called  to  legislate  a new 

“But  that’s  exactly  so,  Rabbi!”  explained  the  head  of  the 
community.  “We  are  trying  to  draw  up  a new  law  against  the 
outside  poor.” 

“Do  you  call  that  a new  law?”  asked  Rabbi  Elijah  scorn- 
fully. “Why  that  law  was  introduced  more  than  five  thousand 
years  ago  in  Sodom  and  Gomorrah!” 

The  Discerning  Judge?9  1 

A youth,  who  had  not  even  reached  his  twentieth  year,  sold 
his  father’s  possessions  which  he  had  inherited.  Immediately 
afterwards,  he  was  sorry  about  the  sale  and  went  to  Rabbi 
Raba  to  have  it  nullified.  The  youth’s  relations  instructed  him 
beforehand,  “When  you  go  to  Rabbi  Raba  be  sure  to  eat 
some  dates  and  shoot  the  pits  right  into  his  face.” 

The  youth  followed  this  advice  and  threw  the  date  pits  at 
the  great  rabbi. 

Rabbi  Raba  regarded  him  with  amazement  and  compas- 
sion. “Poor  boy,”  he  thought.  “He  is  mentally  deficient.”  So 
he  nullified  the  sale. 

Before  they  sat  down  to  draw  up  the  document  of  nullifi- 
cation the  purchaser  secretly  instructed  the  youth  to  say  to 
the  rabbi,  “A  scribe  is  paid  one  gold  piece  to  transcribe  the 
entire  Book  of  Esther.  Why  then  does  the  rabbi  charge  one 
gold  piece  for  just  a few  words?” 

These  words  the  youth  repeated  to  Rabbi  Raba  who,  when 
he  heard  them,  said  to  himself,  “In  truth,  this  boy  speaks  sen- 
sibly! In  that  case  the  sale  was  valid.” 



And  when  the  youth’s  relations  heard  how  Rabbi  Raba  had 
reversed  himself  they  protested,  “The  boy  didn’t  say  these 
words  out  of  his  own  head!  He  must  have  been  instructed  to 
say  them  by  the  purchaser.” 

“In  that  case,”  said  Rabbi  Raba,  closing  the  hearing,  “since 
the  young  man  has  enough  sense  to  remember  and  to  repeat 
what  he  is  instructed  it’s  a sign  that  he  is  fully  aware  of  what 
he’s  doing.” 

“But  Rabbi!”  protested  the  relatives.  “Didn’t  he  throw  date 
pits  at  you?” 

“As  for  that,”  answered  Rabbi  Raba,  “that  was  just  plain 

Whafs  in  a Name? 

When  the  time  came  for  naming  their  firstborn  son,  a hus- 
band and  wife  began  to  wrangle  with  each  other.  She  wanted 
to  name  him  after  her  father;  he  wanted  to  name  him  after  his 
father.  Unable  to  agree,  they  went  to  the  rabbi  to  referee  the 

“What  was  your  father’s  name?”  asked  the  rabbi  of  the 


“And  what  was  your  father’s  name?”  the  rabbi  asked  the 

“Also  Nahum.” 

“Then  what  is  this  whole  argument  about?”  asked  the 
puzzled  rabbi. 

“You  see,  rabbi,”  said  the  wife,  “my  father  was  a scholar 
and  a God-fearing  man,  but  my  husband’s  father  was  a 
horse-thief!  How  can  I name  my  son  after  such  a man?” 

The  rabbi  pondered  and  pondered.  It  was  indeed  a ticklish 
matter;  he  didn’t  wish  to  hurt  the  feelings  of  the  husband.  So 
he  said,  “My  decision  is  that  you  name  your  son  Nahum  and 
leave  the  rest  to  time.  If  he  becomes  a scholar,  then  you  will 
know  that  he  was  named  after  his  mother’s  father.  If,  on  the 
other  hand,  he  becomes  a horse-thief,  it  will  be  clear  that  he 
was  named  after  his  father’s  father.” 

Equal  Justice 

Rabbi  Wolf  of  Zbaraz  had  a stem  sense  of  justice.  Far  and 
wide  he  was  famed  as  an  incorruptible  judge.  One  day,  his 



own  wife  raised  an  outcry  that  her  maid  had  stolen  an  object 
of  great  value.  The  servant,  an  orphan,  tearfully  denied  the 

“We  will  let  the  Rabbinical  Court  settle  this!”  said  her 
mistress  angrily. 

When  Rabbi  Wolf  saw  his  wife  preparing  to  go  to  the 
Court  he  forthwith  began  putting  on  his  Sabbath  robe. 

“Why  do  you  do  that?”  she  asked  in  surprise.  “You  know 
it  is  undignified  for  a man  of  your  position  to  come  to  Court 
with  me.  I can  very  well  plead  my  own  case.” 

“I’m  sure  you  can,”  answered  the  rabbi.  “But  who  will 
plead  the  case  of  your  maid,  the  poor  orphan?  I must  see  that 
full  justice  be  done  to  her.” 

The  Saving  Voice 

Rabbi  Moses  Leib  of  Sassov  was  a very  tolerant  man.  When- 
ever he  acted  as  judge  in  a dispute  he  would  look  for  any 
possible  excuse  to  be  lenient.  Upon  one  occasion,  the  lax  con- 
duct of  the  community  shochet  was  cause  for  much  com- 
plaint. His  dismissal  was  demanded  by  all.  Only  one  man 
appeared  in  his  defense  when  the  case  was  brought  up  before 
the  rabbi.  The  good  sage  listened,  his  brow  knitted,  to  the  tes- 
timony of  the  witnesses.  Then  he  announced  his  decision:  “I 
absolve  the  shochet  of  all  blame  and  rule  that  he  retain  his 

Thereupon  a clamor  arose. 

“Rabbi!”  cried  one.  “How  can  you  take  the  word  of  one 
single  man  against  die  testimony  of  many!” 

The  rabbi  replied  gently,  “When  God  commanded  Abra- 
ham to  bring  his  only  son  Isaac  as  a sacrifice  upon  His  altar, 
didn’t  Abraham  listen  then  to  a mere  angel  who  stayed  his 
hand?  Yet  God  found  this  just,  although  it  opposed  His  will. 
And  God’s  reason  for  this  is  plain.  To  do  a man  harm  re- 
quires a decision  from  high  authority — to  save  him  from 
harm,  only  a word  from  the  most  insignificant  source.” 

He  Didn’t  Deserve  His  Fee 

Once  a small  town  doctor,  who  thought  more  of  his  fees 
than  of  his  patients,  was  called  in  to  treat  the  sick  wife  of  a 
poor  tailor.  After  examining  the  woman  he  turned  to  the  hus- 



band  and  said,  “This  case  will  take  a lot  of  my  time  and  I 
can  see  that  you  won’t  be  able  to  pay  me  for  my  services.” 

“Please,  doctor,  save  her  life!”  begged  the  anxious  hus- 
band. “I  promise  to  pay  you  even  though  I’ll  have  to  pawn 
everything  I own  to  get  the  money!” 

“What  if  I don’t  cure  her — will  you  pay  my  fee  just  the 
same?”  insisted  the  doctor. 

“Whatever  happens,  whether  you  cure  her  or  kill  her,  I 
promise  to  pay!”  cried  the  husband. 

The  treatment  was  started,  but  within  a few  days  the 
woman  died.  Shortly  after,  the  doctor  demanded  1500  rubles 
as  his  fee.  The  bereft  husband  informed  him  that  he  was  un- 
able to  pay  and,  as  was  the  custom  among  the  Jews,  they 
brought  the  matter  to  the  rabbi  for  settlement. 

The  sage  understood  right  away  what  had  happened. 

“Tell  me  again,”  he  asked  the  physician,  “what  was  your 
contract  with  this  man?” 

“I  was  to  get  paid  for  treating  his  wife  regardless  whether  I 
cured  or  killed  her.” 

“Did  you  cure  her?”  asked  the  rabbi. 


“Did  you  kill  her?” 

“I  certainly  did  not!” 

“Then,  since  you  have  neither  cured  her  nor  killed  her 
what  right  have  you  to  the  money?” 

The  Blessing 

A woman  once  came  to  lay  her  complaint  before  the  rabbi. 

“Rabbi,”  she  began  bitterly,  “my  husband  is  a wastrel — he 
gives  away  all  his  money  to  the  poor.  Please  make  him  see 
that  what  he’s  doing  is  a sin.” 

And  even  as  she  spoke  a poor  man  came  in  and  inter- 
rupted vehemently,  “Rabbi,  my  wife  is  gravely  sick  and  my 
children  are  hungry,  but  my  brother,  who  is  rich,  refuses  to 
help  us.” 

The  rabbi  thereupon  said  to  the  woman,  “Go  and  bring 
your  husband.”  And  to  the  poor  man  he  said,  “Go  and  bring 
your  rich  brother.” 

The  two  men  came. 

“Why  are  you  so  impractical?”  the  rabbi  asked  of  the  char- 
itable man. 

“Man’s  life  on  earth  is  as  brief  as  a heart-beat,”  replied  the 



man.  “Therefore,  I fear  that  death  may  cut  short  my  oppor- 
tunity to  do  good.  So  I give  away  my  money.” 

“And  why  are  you  so  tight-fisted  and  cruel?”  the  rabbi 
asked  of  the  rich  brother.  “Why  don’t  you  aid  your  own  flesh 
and  blood?” 

“Rabbi,”  answered  the  miser,  “what  man  knows  the  day  on 
which  he’ll  die?  What  if  I live  to  be  a hundred  and  twenty? 
Would  you  wish  me  to  remain  unprovided  for  in  my  old 

The  rabbi  mused  awhile  and  then,  with  a faraway  smile  on 
his  face,  he  said,  “May  God  preserve  each  one  of  you  from 
what  he  mostly  fears!” 

For  Whom  the  Cock  Crowed 

Two  pious  scholars  lived  in  neighboring  houses.  One  was 
poor  but  quarrelsome,  the  other  was  wealthy  but  a miser. 
Now  the  poor  scholar  bought  himself  a rooster  so  that  its 
crowing  at  dawn  might  wake  him  for  the  study  of  the  Torah. 
So  the  cock  crowed  and  its  owner  arose  betimes  for  his 
sacred  labors.  Also  the  miserly  scholar  heard  the  cock  crow 
and  he  too  got  up  to  study  at  daybreak. 

Once  the  owner  of  the  rooster  said  to  his  neighbor,  “Since 
you  share  in  the  benefits  of  the  rooster’s  cock-a-doodle  it 
would  only  be  fair  that  you  also  share  in  its  upkeep.” 

“Did  I ask  you  to  buy  the  rooster?” 

“No!  But  I see  that  you  profit  from  it.” 

“Does  it  cost  you  anything  if  its  crowing  wakes  me  too?” 

“Since  you  won’t  pay,  let’s  go  to  the  rabbi.” 


So  they  went  to  the  rabbi.  The  rabbi  pondered  the  matter 
long  and  gravely. 

“It’s  a difficult  case — a very  difficult  case!”  he  mused, 
stroking  his  beard  reflectively.  “Because  of  this  I’ll  have  to 
charge  each  of  you  a gulden  for  the  hearing.” 

The  two  scholars  were  taken  aback  but  nevertheless  each 
paid  the  rabbi  a gulden. 

“Hear  my  judgment  then,”  said  the  rabbi.  “You,  the  owner 
of  the  rooster,  say  it’s  your  rooster  and  therefore  it  crows 
only  for  you.  Your  neighbor,  on  the  other  hand,  says  that 
since  he  isn’t  deaf  he  too  can’t  help  hearing  the  rooster  crow. 
But  I say:  it  neither  crows  for  you  nor  for  him  but  for  me  so 
that  you  two  blockheads  can  pay  me  a gulden  each!” 



Too  Clever  Is  Not  Clever 

Once  upon  a time  there  was  a schlimazl.  He  never  earned 
anything  and  he  never  found  anything,  so  he  cursed  his  luck. 
But  one  day,  as  he  was  walking  with  eyes  downcast,  he  sud- 
denly saw  a little  bag  lying  on  the  path  before  him.  Out  of 
curiosity  he  picked  it  up  and,  to  his  amazement,  found  a 
hundred  gulden  in  it 

That  very  day  the  sexton  announced  from  the  pulpit  in  the 
synagogue  that  the  richest  man  in  town  had  lost  a large  sum 
of  money  and  that  he  had  promised  a substantial  reward  to 
the  finder. 

When  the  poor  man  heard  this,  he  began  to  struggle  with 
his  conscience.  Should  he  or  should  he  not  return  the  money? 
After  all,  no  one  had  seen  him  find  it,  and  at  home  his  chil- 
dren were  crying  for  food.  Besides,  wasn’t  the  loser  of  the 
money  rich?  He’d  hardly  miss  it! 

Abashed  suddenly  by  the  wicked  temptation  that  had  come 
to  him,  the  poor  man  hurried  to  return  the  money. 

The  rich  man  accepted  the  money  without  even  a “thank- 
you”  and  began  to  count  the  guldens  leisurely,  one  by  one,  in 
the  meantime  saying  to  himself,  “This  man  is  a ninny.  I won’t 
have  to  give  him  anything.” 

“May  I have  my  reward?”  mumbled  the  poor  man  timidly. 

“Reward!”  cried  the  rich  man.  “Reward  for  what?  Before 
your  very  eyes  I’ve  just  counted  one  hundred  gulden.  Yet  I 
had  two  hundred  gulden  in  that  bag.  Since  you  have  already 
stolen  a hundred  you  have  some  nerve  to  ask  a reward.” 

“Then  let  us  go  to  the  rabbi,”  demanded  the  poor  man. 

“Very  well,”  said  the  rich  man. 

The  rabbi  listened  attentively  to  both  men.  Then  he  turned 
to  the  rich  man  and  asked,  “How  much  money  was  in  the 
bag  you  lost?” 

“Two  hundred  gulden.” 

“And  how  much  money  was  in  the  bag  you  found?”  asked 
the  rabbi  of  the  poor  man. 

“One  hundred  gulden.” 

“In  that  case,”  said  the  rabbi  to  the  rich  man,  “the  bag  of 
money  he  found  is  not  yours.  I order  you  to  give  back  the 
hundred  gulden  to  this  man!” 



Riddle  Solvers 


Talmudic  dialectics  developed  in  the  Jew  a penetrating  subtlety; 
and  also  stimulated  in  him  a love  for  cerebration  for  the  sheer 
pleasure  of  it.  Complicated  bits  of  argumentation,  mathematical 
puzzles,  conundrums,  clever  retorts,  ingenious  word-play — all 
were  pleasant  diversions  to  drive  away  tedium,  especially  during 
the  long  winter  evenings  in  the  ghetto-towns  and  villages. 
Hundreds  of  riddles  and  stratagems  which  taxed  the  ingenuity 
were  thus  cooked  up  in  those  idle  hours  by  the  plain  folk  and  be- 
queathed from  one  generation  to  another  like  precious  gifts. 
Some  of  these  were  obviously  borrowed  from  other  peoples  and 
adapted  to  suit  Jewish  folk-taste. 

As  with  other  Eastern  peoples,  the  riddle-story  was  always  pop- 
ular among  Jews.  For  centuries  Jews  lived  in  large  numbers  in 
Arab  countries.  Arab  and  Jew  naturally  borrowed  readily  from 
each  other’s  culture.  And  so  Jewish  folklore  shows  Arabic  influ- 
ence to  a marked  degree,  just  as  it,  in  turn,  grafted  its  legends, 
tales  and  wise  sayings  on  Arabic  folklore.  The  riddle,  Rabbinical 
Arithmetic,  has  an  Arabic  analogue,  but  it  is  indeed  difficult,  if 
not  impossible,  in  dealing  with  intercultural  fusion  to  determine 
primary  origin.  Attribution  is  frequently  arbitrary  and  supposi- 
tional. This  also  holds  true  for  The  Story  of  Kunz  and  the  Shep- 
herd, taken  from  the  Maaseh-Buch,  the  Sixteenth  Century  Yiddish 
folk-tale  collection  produced  in  the  Rhineland.  It  has  points  of 
similarity  to  the  English  story,  King  John  and  the  Abbott,  and 
probably  was  an  adaptation  of  a German  variant. 


Alexander’s  Instruction 27 

After  his  triumphal  entry  into  Jerusalem,  Alexander  of  Ma- 
cedonia and  his  legions  drew  southward.  When  they  reached 
the  first  city  the  wise  men  there  came  out  to  greet  the  con- 

“I  have  ten  questions  to  put  to  you,”  he  told  them.  “If  you 
are  able  to  answer  them  for  me  I will  know  that  you  are 
indeed  wise,  and  will  let  you  go  in  peace.” 

“Speak,  O King!”  they  replied  with  one  voice. 

“What  distance  is  greater,”  asked  Alexander,  “that  between 
Heaven  and  Earth  or  that  between  East  and  West?” 

“That  between  East  and  West,  O King!  The  sun  rises  in  the 
East,  therefore  it  can  be  observed  easily,  without  the  eye 



being  dazzled.  It  is  the  same  when  the  sun  sets  in  the  West. 
However,  when  the  sun  sits  high  in  the  center  of  Heaven  it  is 
impossible  for  the  naked  eye  to  look  at  it  Its  splendor  blinds 
the  eyes,  for  at  that  point  the  sun  is  nearer  to  man  than  East 
or  West.” 

“Which  was  first  created — Heaven  or  Earth?” 

“Heaven!  For  Scripture  says:  ‘In  the  beginning  God 
created  Heaven  and  Earth.’  ” 

“What  was  first  created — Light  or  Darkness?” 

At  this  question  the  wise  men  hesitated  before  giving  their 
answer.  They  thought,  “If  we  say  that  Darkness  is  mentioned 
first  in  Scripture,  he  will  want  to  know  more  and  more  and 
ask  us  ever  harder  questions,  such  as — what  there  is  above 
Heaven  and  under  the  Earth,  and  what  existed  before 
Heaven  and  Earth  were  created,  and  what  will  exist  after 
they  pass.  Therefore,  let  us  better  say  that  the  question  is  too 
difficult  for  us  to  answer.”  So  they  said,  “O  King,  the  man 
does  not  live  who  could  answer  you  this  question.” 

“In  that  case,”  answered  Alexander,  “I  will  stop  asking  you 
such  difficult  questions  and  put  to  you  easier  ones. 

“Tell  me,”  he  continued,  “who  is  wise?” 

“He  who  can  foresee  the  future.” 

“Who  is  a hero?” 

“He  who  conquers  himself.” 

“Who  is  rich?” 

“He  who  rests  content  with  what  he  has.” 

“By  what  means  does  man  preserve  his  life?” 

“When  he  kills  himself.” 

They  meant:  when  a man  destroys  within  himself  all  pas- 

“By  what  means  does  a man  bring  about  his  own  death?” 

“When  he  clings  to  life.” 

They  meant:  when  he  holds  on  to  his  passions  and  belongs 
to  them. 

“What  should  a man  do  who  wants  to  win  friends?” 

“He  should  flee  from  glory  and  should  despise  dominion 
and  kingship.” 

“That  is  a very  foolish  answer!”  cried  Alexander.  “It  is 
precisely  he  who  wants  to  win  friends  that  must  strive  for 
glory.  Then  he  will  be  in  a position  to  do  good  to  people.” 

“Is  it  better  for  man  to  live  on  dry  land  or  on  the  water?” 
Alexander  continued. 

“Dry  land  is  better  for  man.  Ask  anyone  who  has  been  to 



sea  and  he  will  agree  with  what  we  say.  They  who  live  on  the 
water  never  find  peace  of  mind  and  live  in  constant  anxiety.” 

Having  concluded  his  questioning  Alexander  asked  the 
wise  men,  “Which  one  of  you  is  wisest?” 

“We  are  all  equally  wise,  O King!  You  must  have  observed 
that  all  of  us  replied  to  you  at  the  same  time.” 

“Why  then  do  you  shun  us  and  don’t  obey  my  laws?  Have 
you  no  fear  of  me,  the  great  Alexander?” 

“O  King,  the  Angel  of  Evil  also  seeks  daily  to  command 
men  and  to  force  them  to  obey  them.  Glory  to  him  who  dis- 
obeys him!” 

Alexander  was  filled  with  rage,  hearing  such  words. 

“How  dare  you  speak  to  me  in  this  manner!”  he  cried. 
“Don’t  you  know  that  one  word  from  me  and  you  will  all 

“That  we  know  most  certainly,  O King,”  the  wise  men  re- 
plied calmly.  “But  do  you  think  it  is  becoming  for  a mighty 
king  like  you  to  lie?  Recall  that  you  promised  to  let  us  go  in 
peace  after  we  had  answered  all  your  questions.” 

At  this  Alexander  quieted  down  and  gave  the  wise  men 
presents  of  costly  garments  and  golden  neck-chains. 

“I  will  now  leave  you  and  sail  for  Africa,”  he  told  them. 

“For  Africa!”  cried  the  wise  men  in  astonishment.  “Why, 
you’ll  find  there  mountains  so  high  that  they  reach  the  sky! 
They’ll  surely  obstruct  and  darken  your  way.” 

“Advise  me  then!”  asked  Alexander.  “How  can  I find  the 
right  road  there?” 

“Get  the  asses  from  the  far-off  land  of  Luw  to  ride  on,”  re- 
plied the  wise  men.  “They  can  see  in  the  dark.  Bind  on  them 
threads  of  flax  and  hold  firmly  to  them.  Then  you  will  be 
able  to  pass  safely  through  the  mountains.” 

And  Alexander  did  as  they  said  and  reached  his  goal 

The  Wisdom  of  the  Jews 28 

Two  Jews  were  taken  prisoner  on  Mount  Carmel  by  a Per- 
sian, who  then  made  them  walk  before  him.  Suddenly  he 
overheard  one  prisoner  say  to  the  other,  “I  can  see  that  a 
camel  passed  along  this  road  before  us  who  was  blind  in  one 
eye,  was  loaded  with  two  kegs:  one  with  wine,  the  other  with 
oil,  and  that  of  the  two  drivers  who  led  the  camel  one  was  a 
Jew  and  the  other  a Persian.” 



“O  y®u  stiff-necked  race!”  mocked  their  Persian  captor. 
“What  peculiar  people  you  are!  How  do  you  know  all  that 
you  are  saying?” 

Thereupon,  the  Jew  explained  how  he  knew.  “A  camel 
usually  grazes  on  both  sides  of  the  road,  but  you  can  very 
well  see  that  only  the  grass  on  one  side  of  the  road  is  nibbled. 
This  indicates  that  he  could  see  with  only  one  eye.  For  proof 
that  the  camel  was  loaded  with  two  kegs,  one  of  wine  and 
one  of  oil,  look  on  the  ground.  You  will  notice  tell-tale  drops. 
Also,  it  is  easy  to  tell  the  nationality  of  the  camel-drivers. 
When  a Jew  eats  he  throws  the  crumbs  aside,  but  a Persian 
throws  his  crumbs  right  into  the  middle  of  the  road.” 

Curious  to  find  out  whether  what  the  Jew  said  was  true, 
the  Persian  hastened  ahead  until  he  overtook  a camel  with 
two  drivers.  Questioning  them,  he  found  out  that  it  was  ex- 
actly as  his  captives  had  told  him.  He  then  returned  and,  kiss- 
ing both  Jews  on  the  forehead,  took  them  home  with  him.  He 
made  a great  feast  in  their  honor  and  sang  and  danced  before 
them,  exclaiming,  “Praised  be  the  God  of  the  Jews  who  chose 
the  children  of  Israel  as  His  people  and  endows  them  with  a 
share  of  His  wisdom!” 

How  to  Replenish  a Treasury29 

The  Emperor  Antoninus  once  sent  a messenger  to  Rabbi 
Judah  ha-Nasi  with  the  following  question:  “The  Imperial 
Treasury  is  rapidly  being  depleted.  Can  you  advise  me  how  to 
increase  it?” 

Rabbi  Judah  did  not  answer.  Without  a word  he  led  the 
messenger  into  his  garden.  Then  he  went  quiedy  about  his 
work.  He  dug  up  large  turnips  and  in  their  place  planted  little 
turnips.  He  did  the  same  thing  with  beets  and  with  radishes. 

Seeing  that  Rabbi  Judah  was  not  inclined  to  answer  him, 
the  imperial  messenger  said  to  him,  “Give  me  a letter.” 

“You  need  none.” 

The  messenger  then  returned  to  Antoninus. 

“Did  Rabbi  Judah  give  you  a letter  for  me?” 


“Did  he  say  anything  to  you?” 

“This  neither.” 

“Did  he  do  anything?” 

“Yes,  he  led  me  into  his  garden,  dug  up  large  vegetables 
and  in  their  stead  planted  small  ones.” 



“Now  I understand  what  his  advice  is!”  exclaimed  the  Em- 

Immediately  he  dismissed  all  his  governors  and  tax  collec- 
tors and  replaced  them  with  less  illustrious  but  more  honest 
officials  who,  before  long,  replenished  the  Imperial  Treasury. 

Rabbinical  Arithmetic 

Three  men  pooled  their  money  and  for  twenty-seven 
hundred  rubles  bought  seventeen  horses  in  partnership.  One 
had  paid  half  of  the  money,  another  a third,  and  the  third 
man  a ninth.  But,  when  the  time  came  to  divide  the  horses, 
they  did  not  know  how  to  do  it.  So  they  went  to  the  rabbi  for 

“Let  me  sleep  on  the  matter  overnight,”  he  told  them. 
“Come  back  tomorrow  morning  and  bring  your  horses  with 

At  the  appointed  hour  the  following  morning  the  three 
partners  brought  their  horses  to  the  rabbi.  The  rabbi  then 
went  into  his  stable  and  led  out  his  own  horse.  Mounting  it, 
he  drew  up  alongside  the  seventeen  horses. 

“My  good  friends,”  he  said,  “there  are  now  eighteen 
horses  here.  You,  who  paid  one  half,  take  nine  horses.  You, 
who  paid  a third,  take  six  horses.  You,  who  paid  one  ninth, 
take  two  horses.  Altogether  you,  therefore,  have  the  seventeen 
horses  disposed  of.” 

Then  the  rabbi  led  his  own  horse  back  to  the  stable  and  re- 
turned to  his  Talmud. 

The  Real  Sonso 

A man  once  overheard  his  wife  admonish  their  daughter: 
“Why  aren’t  you  more  careful?  If  you  want  to  sin  make  sure 
that  no  one  suspects  you.  Follow  my  example!  Here  am  I,  a 
mother  of  ten  children,  yet  your  father  doesn’t  know  that 
only  one  of  our  sons  is  his!” 

Her  husband  never  betrayed  the  slightest  sign  that  he  had 
overheard  her,  but  on  his  deathbed  he  had  a will  drawn  up 
leaving  all  his  possessions,  “to  my  only  son.” 

Everybody  was  confounded!  No  one  knew  who  “the  only 
son”  was.  So  all  the  sons  went  to  see  Rabbi  Banna’ah  to  have 
him  decide  who  was  to  be  the  heir. 

Rabbi  Banna’ah  pondered  the  matter  and  said,  “Go,  all  of 
you,  to  your  father’s  grave  and  clamor  loud  and  long  until  he 

WISE  MEN  85 

reveals  which  one  of  you  he  had  in  mind  as  his  true  son  and 

All  the  sons  hastened  to  the  cemetery,  except  one.  He  was 
really  the  “only  son.”  But,  unlike  his  brothers,  he  was  deter- 
mined that  he  would  rather  lose  the  inheritance  than  insult 
the  memory  of  his  father. 

Rabbi  Banna’ah  then  gave  his  decision.  “The  inheritance 
belongs  to  the  son  who  didn’t  clamor  at  his  father’s  grave.” 

The  Innkeeper’s  Clever  Daughter 31 

Once  there  was  a nobleman  and  he  had  three  Jewish  tenants 
on  his  estate.  One  held  the  forest  concession,  another  oper- 
ated the  mill,  the  third,  the  poorest  of  them,  ran  the  inn. 

One  day  the  nobleman  summoned  the  three  and  said  to 
them,  “I  am  going  to  put  to  you  three  questions:  ‘Which  is 
the  swiftest  thing  in  the  world?  Which  is  the  fattest?  Which  is 
the  dearest?’  The  one  who  answers  correctly  all  of  these  ques- 
tions won’t  have  to  pay  me  any  rent  for  ten  years.  And 
whoever  fails  to  give  me  the  correct  answer,  I’ll  send  packing 
from  my  estate.” 

The  Jew  who  had  the  forest  concession  and  the  one  who 
operated  the  mill  did  not  think  very  long  and  decided  be- 
tween them  to  give  the  following  answers:  “The  swiftest  thing 
in  the  world  is  the  nobleman’s  horse,  the  fattest  is  the  noble- 
man’s pig,  and  the  dearest  is  the  nobleman’s  wife.” 

The  poor  innkeeper,  however,  went  home  feeling  very 
much  worried.  He  had  only  three  days’  time  to  answer  the 
nobleman’s  questions.  He  racked  his  brains.  What  answers 
could  he  give? 

Now  the  innkeeper  had  a daughter.  She  was  pretty  and 

“What  is  worrying  you  so,  father?”  she  asked. 

He  told  her  about  the  nobleman’s  three  questions. 

“Why  shouldn’t  I worry?”  he  cried.  “I’ve  thought  and 
thought  but  I cannot  find  the  answers!” 

“There  is  nothing  to  worry  about,  father,”  she  told  him. 
“The  questions  are  very  easy:  The  swiftest  thing  in  the  world 
is  thought,  the  fattest  is  the  earth,  the  dearest  is  sleep.” 

When  the  three  days  were  up  the  three  Jewish  tenants  went 
to  see  the  landowner.  Pridefully  the  first  two  gave  the  an- 
swers they  had  agreed  upon  beforehand,  thinking  that  the 
landowner  would  feel  flattered  by  them. 



“You’re  wrong!”  cried  the  nobleman.  “Now  pack  up  and 
leave  my  estate  right  away  and  don’t  you  dare  to  come 

But,  when  he  heard  the  innkeeper’s  answers  he  was  filled 
with  wonder. 

“I  like  your  answers  very  much,”  he  told  him,  “but  I know 
you  didn’t  think  them  up  by  yourself.  Confess — who  gave 
you  the  answers?” 

“It  was  my  daughter,”  the  innkeeper  answered. 

“Your  daughter!”  exclaimed  the  nobleman  in  surprise. 
“Since  she  is  so  clever  I’d  very  much  like  to  see  her.  Bring 
her  to  me  in  three  days’  time.  But  listen  carefully:  she  must 
come  here  neither  walking  nor  riding,  neither  dressed  nor 
naked.  She  must  also  bring  me  a gift  that  is  not  a gift.” 

The  innkeeper  returned  home  even  more  worried  than  the 
first  time. 

“What  now,  father?”  his  daughter  asked  him.  “What’s 
worrying  you?” 

He  then  told  her  of  the  nobleman’s  request  to  see  her  and 
of  his  instructions. 

“Well,  what  is  there  to  worry  about?”  she  said.  “Go  to  the 
market-place  and  buy  me  a fishing  net,  also  a goat,  a couple 
of  pigeons  and  several  pounds  of  meat.” 

He  did  as  she  told  him  and  brought  to  her  his  purchases. 

At  the  appointed  time  she  undressed  and  wound  herself  in 
the  fishing  net,  so  she  was  neither  dressed  nor  naked.  She 
then  mounted  the  goat,  her  feet  dragging  on  the  ground,  so 
that  she  was  neither  riding  nor  walking.  Then  she  took  the 
two  pigeons  in  one  hand  and  the  meat  in  the  other.  In  this 
way  she  arrived  at  the  nobleman’s  house. 

The  nobleman  stood  at  the  window  watching  her  arrival. 
As  soon  as  he  saw  her  he  turned  his  dogs  on  her,  and,  as  they 
tried  to  attack  her,  she  threw  them  the  meat.  So  they  pounced 
on  the  meat  and  let  her  pass  into  the  house. 

“I’ve  brought  you  a gift  that  is  not  a gift,”  she  said  to  the 
nobleman,  stretching  out  her  hand  holding  the  two  pigeons. 
But  suddenly  she  released  the  birds  and  they  flew  out  of  the 

The  nobleman  was  enchanted  with  her. 

“What  a very  clever  girl  you  are!”  he  cried.  “I  want  to 
marry  you,  but  only  on  one  condition,  never  must  you  inter- 
fere in  my  affairs!” 

She  gave  him  her  promise  and  he  made  her  his  wife. 

WISE  MEN  87 

One  day,  as  she  stood  at  the  window,  she  saw  a weeping 
peasant  pass  by. 

“Why  do  you  weep?”  she  asked  him. 

“My  neighbor  and  I own  a stable  in  partnership,”  he  told 
her.  “He  keeps  the  wagon  there  and  I a mare.  Last  night  the 
mare  gave  birth  to  a pony  under  my  neighbor’s  wagon. 
Whereupon,  my  neighbor  insisted  that  the  pony  rightfully  be- 
longed to  him.  So  I haled  him  before  the  nobleman  who 
upheld  him  and  said  the  pony  was  his.  How  unjust,  I. say!” 

‘Take  my  advice,”  the  nobleman’s  wife  said.  “Get  a fish- 
ing-rod and  station  yourself  before  my  husband’s  window. 
Nearby  you’ll  find  a sand-heap.  Pretend  you’re  catching  fish 
there.  My  husband  will  surely  be  amazed  and  will  ask  you: 
‘How  can  you  catch  fish  in  a sand-heap?’  So  you  will  answer 
him:  ‘If  a wagon  can  give  birth  to  a pony  then  I can  catch 
fish  in  a sand-heap/  ” 

The  peasant  did  as  she  told  him  and  it  happened  exactly  as 
she  said  it  would. 

When  the  nobleman  heard  the  peasant’s  answer  he  said  to 
him,  “You  didn’t  think  this  up  out  of  your  own  head. 
Confess,  who  told  you?” 

“It  was  your  wife.” 

Angrily  the  nobleman  went  to  look  for  his  wife. 

“You  have  broken  your  promise  not  to  interfere  in  my  af- 
fairs!” he  stormed  at  her.  “Go  and  choose  from  all  my  pos- 
sessions that  which  you  deem  the  most  precious  and  return  to 
your  father’s  house!” 

“Very  well,”  she  answered,  “I  will  go,  but  before  I do  I 
would  like  to  dine  with  you  for  the  last  time.” 

He  consented,  and  during  dinner  she  plied  him  with  much 
wine.  When  he  had  drunk  a great  deal  he  became  drowsy  and 
fell  asleep.  Thereupon  she  ordered  that  his  carriage  be  made 
ready.  She  then  drove  him,  as  he  slept,  to  her  father’s  house. 

When  he  sobered  up  and  discovered  where  he  was  he 
asked  in  surprise,  “How  did  I ever  get  here?” 

“It  was  I who  brought  you  here,”  his  wife  confessed. 
“Don’t  you  remember  telling  me  to  choose  the  most  precious 
possession  you  owned  and  then  to  return  to  my  father’s 
house?  So  I looked  over  all  your  possessions,  and,  not  finding 
any  of  them  as  precious  as  you,  I carried  you  away  with  me 
to  my  father’s  house.” 

The  nobleman  was  overjoyed. 

“Since  you  love  me  so,  let’s  go  home!”  he  said. 



So  they  were  reconciled  and  lived  in  prosperity  and  in 
honor  for  the  rest  of  their  lives. 

The  Farmers  Daughter 92 

Once  there  was  a king  who  was  wise  and  mighty.  He  had  a 
large  harem  of  many  wives  and  concubines. 

One  night  he  had  a troubling  dream.  He  saw  an  ape  out  of 
the  land  of  Yemen  sitting  astride  the  necks  of  his  wives  and 
concubines  and  then  leaping  from  one  to  another. 

In  the  morning  the  king  awoke  feeling  sad  and  depressed. 
He  thought  to  himself  gloomily,  “The  dream  can  mean  noth- 
ing else  but  that  the  King  of  Yemen  will  conquer  my  country 
and  will  take  my  wives  away  from  me.” 

When  the  chamberlain  entered,  as  was  his  daily  custom,  he 
heard  his  master  sighing. 

“What  makes  you  so  sad,  O King?”  he  asked.  “Reveal  your 
secret  to  your  servant.  Maybe  I will  be  able  to  help  you  in 
your  trouble.” 

The  king  told  him,  “I  had  a dream  last  night  that  made  me 
have  bitter  forebodings  of  death.  Do  you  know  of  any  man 
who  can  interpret  dreams  well?” 

“I  have  heard  that  only  three  days’  journey  from  here  there 
lives  a man  of  great  wisdom  who  can  interpret  the  most  con- 
fusing dreams.  Tell  me  what  troubles  you,  O King,  and  I will 
go  to  ask  the  help  of  this  interpreter  of  dreams.” 

The  king  told  him  his  dream  and  then  said  to  the  chamber- 
lain,  “Go  now  in  peace.” 

And  so  the  chamberlain  mounted  his  mule  and  started  out 
in  search  of  the  wise  man. 

On  the  following  morning  he  met  a farmer  riding  on  an 

“Peace  be  with  you,  you  tiller  of  the  soil,”  he  said,  “you 
who  are  of  earth  and  who  eat  earth.” 

The  farmer  laughed,  hearing  him  speak  so. 

“Where  are  you  travelling?”  asked  the  chamberlain. 

“I’m  on  my  way  home.” 

“Will  you  carry  me  or  shall  I carry  you?”  asked  the  cham- 

The  farmer  laughed  again,  saying,  “Why  should  I carry 
you  when  you  are  riding  a mule  and  I am  mounted  on  an 

Then  they  rode  on  together  for  a while. 



Soon  they  came  to  a field  covered  with  ripening  wheat. 

“See  how  beautiful  the  field  looks  and  how  full  the  wheat 
spears  are!”  said  the  farmer. 

“Indeed,  it’s  so,”  answered  the  chamberlain,  “but  the  wheat 
has  already  been  eaten.” 

They  rode  on  and  came  upon  a tower  built  upon  a high 

“See  how  strong  this  fortress  is!”  cried  the  farmer  with  ad- 

“It  looks  well  fortified  but  it  may  be  destroyed  from 
within,”  replied  the  chamberlain.  Further  on  he  exclaimed, 
“Just  look  at  the  snow  on  the  summit!” 

Again  the  farmer  laughed  because  it  was  in  the  middle  of 
summer  and  there  was  no  sign  of  snow  anywhere. 

Soon  they  approached  a city  and  saw  a dead  man  being 
borne  on  his  bier  to  the  cemetery. 

“Is  this  one  dead  or  alive?”  asked  the  chamberlain. 

At  this  the  farmer  thought  to  himself,  “This  man  thinks 
he’s  clever,  but  he’s  the  most  stupid  man  I’ve  ever  met!” 

When  the  sun  began  to  set  the  chamberlain  asked  his  com- 
panion, “Is  there  an  inn  in  the  neighborhood?” 

The  farmer  replied,  “Ahead  of  us  is  the  village  where  I 
live.  Bestow  on  me  the  honor  of  lodging  with  me.  I have 
enough  straw  for  your  bed  and  fodder  for  your  mule.” 

“I  will  gladly  accept  your  hospitality,”  said  the  chamber- 

Thus  he  accompanied  the  farmer  to  his  house.  The  farmer 
served  him  food  and  drink,  fed  his  mule  and  showed  him  the 
place  where  he  could  lie.  The  farmer  then  went  to  sleep 
beside  his  wife;  his  two  daughters  also  slept  in  the  same 

At  night  the  farmer  woke  his  wife  and  daughters  and  said 
to  them,  “What  a simpleton  is  our  guest!”  And  he  repeated 
all  the  remarkable  things  the  chamberlain  had  said  during 
their  journey. 

Now  the  farmer’s  youngest  daughter,  who  was  fifteen  years 
old,  was  very  clever.  She  said  to  her  father,  “Why  do  you  call 
this  man  a fool?  In  my  opinion  he’s  very  clever  and  wise. 
What  he  said  is  full  of  deep  meaning  and  of  great  signifi- 
cance. I don’t  think  you  understood  what  he  meant.” 

And  then  she  went  on  to  explain:  “When  he  said  that  he 
who  cultivates  the  soil  also  eats  earth  he  referred  to  the  origin 
of  all  food  which  springs  from  the  earth. 



“When  he  told  you  that  you  were  of  the  earth,  too,  he  was 
referring  to  the  Scriptural  passage:  ‘From  dust  you  spring 
and  to  dust  you  shall  return.’ 

When  he  asked  the  question  which  one  of  you  shall  carry 
the  other  he  was  merely  asking  which  one  of  you  should  en- 
tertain the  other,  for  he  who  lightens  the  spirit  of  a fellow- 
traveller  also  lightens  his  journey  so  that  he  feels  as  if  he 
were  being  carried. 

“When  he  spoke  of  the  wheat  growing  in  the  field  he  could 
very  well  have  been  right,  for  if  the  owner  of  the  field  was 
poor  and  in  debt  he  most  likely  had  already  sold  the  crop  in 

“When  he  held  that  the  tower  was  not  strongly  fortified  he 
merely  pointed  to  the  possibilities  of  traitors  being  within  its 
walls  and  of  there  being  an  insufficient  stock  of  food  and 
water  inside. 

When  he  said  that  there  was  snow  on  the  mountain  he 
was  merely  referring  to  your  grey  hair  and  beard.  You  should 
have  answered:  Time  has  done  that  to  me.’ 

“When  he  asked  whether  the  dead  man  was  dead  or  alive 
he  merely  wished  to  inquire  whether  he  left  children  behind, 
and  if  he  did  he  was  alive,  even  though  dead.” 

The  farmer  was  under  the  impression  that  the  chamberlain 
was  fast  asleep,  but  in  fact  he  was  very  much  awake  and  had 
eagerly  followed  the  daughter  in  her  explanation. 

When  the  morning  came  the  daughter  said  to  her  father,  “I 
want  you  to  give  our  guest  before  he  leaves  us  whatever  food 
1 11  give  you.” 

So  she  placed  before  her  father  thirty  eggs,  a bowl  of  milk 
and  a whole  loaf. 

“Now  go  to  our  guest  and  ask  him  how  many  days  are  still 
required  to  oomplete  the  month,  whether  the  moon  is  full  and 
the  sun  is  whole.” 

Of  the  food  that  his  daughter  had  served  him  the  farmer 
ate  only  two  eggs  and  a slice  of  bread,  and  also  drank  a little 
milk.  The  rest  he  placed  before  the  chamberlain.  Then  he  put 
to  him  the  question  his  daughter  had  instructed  him  to  ask. 

The  chamberlain  listened  and  then  replied,  ‘Tell  your 
daughter  that  two  days  are  missing  to  complete  the  month 
and  that  neither  the  sun  nor  the  moon  are  full.” 

The  farmer  went  to  his  daughter  and  reported  to  her  what 
the  chamberlain  had  answered. 

“Tell  me  truly,  isn’t  the  man  a simpleton?”  he  asked.  “We 

WISE  MEN  91 

are  right  in  the  middle  of  the  month  and  here  he  claims  that 
it  is  only  two  days  before  its  end!” 

“Tell  me,  father,”  asked  the  daughter.  “Did  you  taste  any 
of  the  food  I gave  you?” 

“I  ate  two  eggs,  a slice  of  bread  and  drank  a little  milk,” 
answered  her  father. 

“Now  I know  that  the  stranger  is  a wise  man!”  cried  the 

When  the  chamberlain  heard  of  the  cleverness  of  the  girl 
he  was  filled  with  astonishment. 

“Let  me  speak  with  your  daughter,”  he  asked  the  farmer. 

The  farmer  consented  and  the  girl  was  introduced  to  the 
chamberlain.  He  asked  her  some  more  questions  and  she 
knew  the  right  answers.  Having  convinced  himself  of  her  wis- 
dom he  told  her  the  reason  for  his  journey  and  gave  her  all 
the  details  of  the  king’s  dream. 

When  he  had  finished  the  girl  said,  “I  know  well  what  the 
ape  that  the  king  saw  in  his  dream  signifies  but  I will  not 
confide  it  to  anyone  but  the  king  himself.” 

The  chamberlain  now  revealed  his  true  identity  to  the 
farmer  and  his  wife  and  begged  them  to  allow  their  daughter 
to  journey  with  him  to  the  palace  of  the  king.  Her  parents 
gave  their  consent,  so  the  chamberlain  brought  the  farmer’s 
daughter  before  the  king  and  she  found  favor  in  the  king’s 

He  led  her  into  a private  chamber  where  he  repeated  to 
her  his  dream  and  after  he  had  spoken,  she  said,  “O  King, 
banish  all  worry  from  your  mind!  The  ape  you  saw  had  no 
evil  significance.  But  I dare  not  tell  you  the  meaning  of  the 
dream  in  order  not  to  cause  you  suffering.” 

“I  command  you  to  speak!”  cried  the  king,  sternly. 

“Very  well  then,”  the  girl  answered.  “Make  a thorough 
search  of  your  harem,  and  among  your  wives  and  your  con- 
cubines and  their  maid  servants  you  will  find  hidden  an  evil 
man  who  is  disguised  in  woman’s  attire.  He  is  the  ape  you 
saw  in  your  dream.” 

So  the  king  commanded  that  the  matter  be  investigated, 
and  it  was  as  the  farmer’s  daughter  had  said:  they  found  a 
youth  among  them  masquerading  in  woman’s  clothes.  To 
teach  his  wives  and  concubines  a lesson  the  king  ordered  that 
the  man  be  cut  down  before  their  eyes  and  his  blood  be 
sprinkled  on  their  faces.  He  also  ordered  killed  all  the  women 
who  had  sinned  with  him. 



And  when  all  this  was  done  he  made  the  farmer’s  daughter 
his  wife,  and  placed  the  royal  crown  on  her  head.  He  swore 
to  give  up  all  of  his  wives  and  concubines  and  the  clever  girl 
remained  his  only  mate. 

The  Story  of  Kurtz  and  His  Shepherd I38 

The  proverb  runs:  “You  will  be  left  behind  as  Kunz  was  left 
behind  to  look  after  the  sheep.”  And  if  you  ask  how  Kunz 
came  to  be  left  behind  to  look  after  the  sheep,  I will  tell  you. 

Once  upon  a time  there  was  a mighty  king,  who  had  a 
counselor  called  Kunz.  Whenever  the  king  needed  advice, 
and  the  counselors  in  conference  came  to  a decision,  the  clever 
Kunz  would  go  to  the  king  and  say:  “This  is  our  decision.” 
This  fine  gentleman  always  took  the  credit  to  himself,  pretend- 
ing that  he  was  responsible  for  the  advice  and  that  the  other 
counselors  had  to  agree  with  him,  for  they  had  neither  sense 
nor  understanding.  And  the  good  king  believed  what  Kunz 
told  him  and  considered  him  as  much  wiser  than  the  other 

Now  the  other  counselors  noticed  that  the  king  loved  Kunz 
more  than  he  loved  them  and  they  resented  it  very  much,  for 
he  was  the  least  important  among  them.  One  day  they  took 
counsel  together  how  to  get  the  better  of  Kunz  and  humiliate 
him.  So  they  went  to  the  king  and  said:  “Lord  king,  we  beg 
of  you  to  forgive  us,  for  we  wish  to  ask  you  how  it  is  that 
you  think  more  of  Kunz  and  hold  him  in  higher  esteem  than 
the  rest  of  us,  although  we  know  that  he  is  the  least  impor- 
tant among  us?”  The  king  replied:  “I  will  tell  you  how  it 
happens.  Whenever  you  come  to  a decision  on  any  matter,  he 
reports  it  to  me  and  says  that  the  idea  is  his  and  that  you 
have  to  acknowledge  every  time  that  he  is  wiser  than  you  and 
that  you  have  no  sense  at  all.  But  I do  not  hold  you  in  disre- 
spect, for  you  are  all  good  to  me.”  When  the  counselors 
heard  this,  they  were  very  glad  and  thought:  “We  will  soon 
bring  about  his  downfall.”  Then  they  said  to  the  king:  “Be 
assured  that  all  which  Kunz  said  is  a lie,  for  he  has  no  sense 
at  all.  Try  every  one  of  us  separately  and  you  will  see  that  he 
cannot  give  you  any  advice  by  himself.”  The  king  said:  “I 
will  find  out  very  soon,”  and  sent  for  his  beloved  counselor 
Kunz  and  said  to  him:  “My  dear  servant,  I know  that  you 
are  loyal  and  exceedingly  wise.  Now  I have  something  in  my 
mind  that  I do  not  wish  to  reveal  to  anyone.  Therefore  I 



want  to  ask  you  whether  you  can  find  out  the  truth  for  me, 
and  if  you  do,  I will  reward  you  liberally.”  The  clever  Kunz 
replied:  “My  beloved  king,  ask  me  and  I hope  I can  give  you 
an  answer.  Tell  me  your  secret.”  The  king  said:  “I  will  ask 
you  three  questions.  The  first  is:  Where  does  the  sun  rise? 
The  second  is:  How  far  is  the  sky  from  the  earth?  The  third, 
my  dear  Kunz,  is:  What  am  I thinking?”  When  Kunz  heard 
these  three  questions,  he  said:  “Lord  king,  these  are  difficult 
matters,  which  cannot  be  answered  offhand.  They  require 
time.  I beg  of  you,  therefore,  to  give  me  three  days’  time,  and' 
then  I hope  to  give  you  the  proper  answer.”  The  king  re- 
plied: “My  dear  Kunz,  your  request  is  granted,  I will  give 
you  three  days’  time.”  Kunz  went  away  and  thought  to  him- 
self: “I  cannot  concentrate  my  mind  very  well  in  the  city,  I 
will  go  for  a walk  into  the  country.  There  I am  alone  and 
can  reflect  better  than  in  the  city.” 

He  went  out  into  the  country  and  came  upon  the  shepherd 
who  was  tending  his  flock.  Walking  along,  he  talked  as  it 
were  to  himself,  saying:  “Who  can  tell  me  how  far  the  heav- 
ens are  from  the  earth?  Who  can  tell  me  where  the  sun  rises? 
Who  can  tell  me  what  the  king  is  thinking?”  The  shepherd, 
seeing  his  master  walking  about  wrapt  in  thought,  said  to 
him : “Sir,  pardon  me.  I can  see  that  you  are  greatly  troubled  in 
your  mind.  If  you  ask  me,  I might  be  able  to  help  you.  As 
the  proverb  says:  ‘One  can  often  advise  another,  though  one 
cannot  advise  oneself.’  ” When  Kunz  heard  these  words  from 
the  shepherd,  he  thought:  “I  will  tell  him.  Perhaps  after  all 
he  may  be  able  to  advise  me.”  And  he  said:  “I  will  tell  you 
why  I am  so  troubled.  The  king  asked  me  three  questions, 
which  I must  answer  or  lose  my  neck.  I have  been  thinking 
about  them  and  cannot  find  the  answer.”  Then  the  shepherd 
said:  “What  are  the  three  questions?  Perhaps  I may  be  able 
to  help  you  in  your  great  trouble.”  So  Kunz  thought:  “I  will 
tell  him,  maybe  he  is  a scholar.”  And  he  said:  “My  dear 
shepherd,  these  are  the  three  questions  which  the  king  asked 
me.  I must  tell  him  where  the  sun  rises,  how  far  the  heavens 
are  from  the  earth,  and  what  the  king  is  thinking.”  The  shep- 
herd thought  it  was  well  to  know  the  answers  and  said  to 
Kunz:  “My  dear  master,  give  me  your  fine  clothes,  and  you 
put  on  my  poor  garments  and  look  after  the  sheep.  I will  go 
to  the  king  and  he  will  think  that  I am  you  and  will  ask  me 
the  three  questions.  Then  I shall  give  him  the  proper  answers 
and  you  will  be  saved  from  your  trouble.  Then  I shall  return 



here  and  you  will  not  be  in  disgrace  with  your  king.”  Kunz 
allowed  himself  to  be  persuaded,  gave  the  shepherd  his  good 
clothes  and  fine  cloak,  while  he  put  on  the  shepherd’s  rough 
garments  and  sat  down  to  look  after  the  sheep,  as  though  he 
had  done  it  all  his  life. 

When  the  three  days  had  passed,  the  shepherd  went  to  the 
king  and  said:  “Lord  king,  I have  been  thinking  over  the' 
three  questions  that  you  asked  me.”  The  king  said:  “Now  tell 
me,  where  does  the  sun  rise?”  The  shepherd  replied:  “The 
sun  rises  in  the  east  and  sets  in  the  west.”  The  king  asked 
again:  “How  far  are  the  heavens  from  the  earth?”  The  shep- 
herd replied:  “As  far  as  the  earth  is  from  the  heavens.”  Then 
the  king  said:  “What  am  I thinking?”  The  shepherd  replied: 
“My  lord  king,  you  are  thinking  that  I am  your  counselor 
Kunz,  but  I am  not.  I am  the  shepherd  who  looks  after  his 
flock.  My  master  Kunz  was  walking  in  the  field  one  day  and 
saying  to  himself:  ‘Who  can  tell  me  where  the  sun  rises?  Who 
can  tell  me  how  far  the  heavens  are  from  the  earth?  Who  can 
tell  me  what  the  king  has  in  his  mind?’  He  was  walking  about 
all  the  time  and  talking  in  such  fashion.  So  I told  him  he 
should  give  me  his  good  clothes  and  I would  give  him  my 
rough  clothes;  he  should  look  after  the  sheep  and  I would, 
with  the  help  of  God,  guess  the  answers  to  these  three  ques- 
tions and  save  him.  He  allowed  himself  to  be  persuaded,  and 
so  he  is  now  out  in  the  field,  dressed  in  my  rough  clothes  and 
tending  the  sheep,  while  I am  dressed  in  his  beautiful  cloak 
and  his  best  clothes.”  When  the  king  heard  this,  he  said  to  the 
shepherd:  “As  you  succeeded  in  persuading  Kunz,  you  shall 
remain  my  counselor  and  Kunz  can  look  after  the  sheep.” 
Hence  the  proverb:  “You  will  be  left  behind  as  Kunz  was 
left  behind  to  look  after  the  sheep.”  This  is  what  happened  to 
him.  May  it  go  better  with  us. 



Cabalists,  Mystics  and 



Beginning  with  the  Talmudic  era,  there  crept  into  Jewish 
thought  a persistently  mystical  and  life-denying  element.  But  mys- 
ticism never  really  achieved  a dominant  position  among  Jews  ex- 
cept for  relatively  brief  periods  when,  under  the  stress  of 
persecution,  Jewish  life  became  constricted.  Then  there  were  those 
who  were  eager  to  escape  into  the  unreal  and  shadowy  world  of 

What  is  the  Cabala?  It  is  not  just  one  book  but  an  entire  body 
of  esoteric  knowledge  which  had  been  created  in  the  course  of 
some  two  thousand  years  by  those  daringly  imaginative  but  sickly 
minds,  the  cabalists.  They  were  men  disenchanted  with  life  who 
sought  to  construct  a bridge  between  “this  vale  of  tears”  and 
God.  They  were  “God-intoxicated”  men,  dominated  by  a single 
drive:  As  the  hart  panteth  after  the  water-brooks,  so  panteth  my 
soul  after  Thee,  O God!”  (Psalm  42.1).  To  find  God,  the  cabalists 
renounced  the  world  with  all  its  snares  of  the  senses.  They  substi- 
tuted intuition  for  reason,  spirit  for  flesh,  the  hidden  for  the  visi- 
ble, and  the  unknown  for  the  known. 

Cabala,  which  in  Hebrew  means  “The  Received,  or  Traditional 
Lore,”  loftily  referred  to  itself  as  “The  Hidden  Wisdom.”  It 
represented  that  kind  of  knowledge  which  could  be  acquired,  not 
by  ordinary  reason,  but  by  the  illumination  of  the  spirit.  There- 
fore, only  the  spiritually  elect,  those  who  were  “adepts  in  Grace,” 
were  deemed  worthy  enough  to  explore  its  secret  meanings.  In 
short,  it  was  an  “aristocratic”  body  of  knowledge  like  some  ab- 
struse higher  mathematics;  hoi  polloi  had  to  rest  content  with 
Scripture  itself. 

The  history  of  the  Cabala  winds  along  a complicated  and  un- 




certain  course.  It  is  a strange  mystical  brew  of  diverse  ingredi- 
ents, combining  Jewish  ethics,  Zoroastrian  dualism,  Pythagorean 
numerology,  Neo-Platonic  emanations  and  medieval  Christian 
asceticism.  While  numerous  works  collectively  constitute  the  Ca- 
bala, the  two  most  prized  are  the  Sefer  Yetzira  (Book  of 
Creation)  compiled  during  the  Talmudic  era,  and  the  far  better 
known  Zohar  (Splendor)  which  people  sometimes  erroneously  use 
interchangeably  with  Cabala.  This  second  work,  ascribed  by  its 
first  editor,  the  Spanish  mystic  Moses  Shem-Tob  de  Leon 
(1250-1305),  to  the  Galilean  Mishna  writer  Simon  bar  Yohai 
(Second  Century  a.d.),  became  the  scriptures  of  the  later  cabal- 
ists.  Next  to  the  Bible  itself  it  was  revered  above  all  other  sacred 
Jewish  works  by  its  devotees  and  by  awestruck  superstitious  folk. 
Because  of  this  the  Cabala  fell  into  disrepute  among  the  rational- 
ists. This  explains  the  popular  misconception  of  the  Cabala,  usu- 
ally based  on  inadequate  knowledge,  as  being  nothing  but  a silly 
hodge-podge  of  numerological  and  alphabetical  abracadabra, 
childish  beliefs,  incantations,  and  various  other  kinds  of  mumbo- 

Although  Jews  lived  in  walled-in  isolation  in  medieval  times, 
they  were  exposed  to  the  influences  of  the  Christian  and  Islamic 
worlds  about  them.  Monasticism,  with  its  rejection  of  the  life  of 
the  senses  as  cardinal  sin,  left  a deep  impression  on  the  cabalists 
of  the  Middle  Ages.  They  too  mortified  the  flesh  in  order  to  sub- 
jugate it  and,  by  the  power  of  prayer,  strove  to  break  the  bonds 
which  kept  their  spirits  earthbound.  It  was  often  a pietistic  pas- 
sion close  to  frenzy  that  burned  like  a consuming  fire  within 
them,  all  but  destroying  the  frail  human  kernel  in  which  the  spirit 
dwelled.  A vivid  description  of  this  kind  of  aberrated  striving  can 
be  found  in  The  Cabalists,  a story  by  the  Yiddish  literary  master 
I.  L.  Peretz,  which  is  included  in  this  section. 

It  is  indeed  a paradox  of  history  that  the  Dark  Ages  among 
Jews  had  never  really  existed  until  the  latter  half  of  the  Sixteenth 
Century.  At  the  very  time  when  the  medieval  darkness  had  sent 
civilization  reeling  backwards  in  Europe,  the  Jews  were  probably 
the  most  enlightened  people  in  the  world.  They  were  the  proud 
inheritors  and  disseminators  not  only  of  their  own  culture  but  of 
the  Greek  and  Arabic  civilizations  as  well.  As  has  so  often  been 
pointed  out  by  historians,  the  Jews  were  instrumental  to  a large 
measure  in  kindling  the  bright  flame  of  learning  and  rationalism 
in  a superstitious  feudal  society.  However,  in  the  twilight  years  of 
the  Renaissance,  while  the  Christian  world  was  richly  developing 
its  sciences,  its  arts  and  the  humanities,  the  Jews,  yielding  to  the 
hammer  blows  of  their  enemies,  were  growing  culturally  weaker. 
Superstition,  excessive  piety  and  delirious  cabalistic  dreams  proved 
excellent  modes  of  escape  from  the  unhappy  reality  of  Jew- 
ish life.  The  legends  about  the  Sixteenth  Century  Cabala  mas- 



ters  of  Safed  in  Palestine — Moses  Cordovero,  Joseph  della  Reyna, 
Alkabez,  Chayyim  Vital,  and  Isaac  Luria,  better  known  as  “The 
Ari” — wove  their  web  of  morbid  enchantment  around  Jewish 
daily  thinking  and  feeling.  In  addition  to  harassment  from  death, 
hunger,  epidemics  and  persecution,  the  average  Jew  now  had  to 
endure  the  terror  of  a shadowy  world  haunted  by  unspeakable 
demons,  specters,  ghosts  and  dibbukim  (transmigrating  souls). 

With  the  rise  of  the  popular  mystical  sect,  the  Hasidim  (The 
Pious),  the  Cabala  took  a new  lease  on  life,  but  it  went  through 
an  inner  and  outer  transformation  as  well.  Rabbi  Israel  Baal- 
Shem,  the  founder  of  Hasidism,  introduced  the  Cabala  into  his 
mystic  cult  but  without  any  of  its  forbidding  austerities.  He  bor- 
rowed from  it  principally  the  ethical,  the  poetic  and  the  ecstatic 

The  legends  of  the  Hasidim  have  a fascinating  historical-reli- 
gious background,  unique  in  all  folk-literature.  Actually,  the  time 
span  of  their  creation  was  less  than  two  hundred  years,  for  the 
sect  was  founded  shortly  before  the  middle  of  the  Eighteenth 
Century.  They  are  more  than  mere  legends;  they  constitute  a gen- 
uine body  of  devotional  folk-literature.  One  of  the  best  ways  to 
worship  God,  the  Hasidim  believed,  was  to  read  and  tell  the  won- 
drous tales  about  the  tzaddikim.  The  singing  of  melodies,  and  the 
dance,  were  also  considered  forms  of  worship  which  could  serve 
as  substitutes  for  Torah-study. 

The  initiator  of  this  social-religious  movement,  which  toward 
the  end  of  the  Nineteenth  Century  embraced  half  of  all  the  Jews 
in  Europe,  was  Israel  ben  Eliezer,  later  known  as  Israel  Baal- 
Shem,  or  Baal-Shem-Tov  (Master  of  the  Good  Name).  He  was 
born  in  1700,  either  in  the  Ukraine  or  in  the  Carpathian  Moun- 
tains of  Galicia,  no  one  knows  where  for  certain.  All  his  life  he 
revealed  a great  love  for  solitude  and  for  nature.  He  wandered 
alone  through  field  and  forest  and  communed  with  God  in  the 
poetical-mystical  way  that  was  characteristic  of  him.  It  was  at 
such  times  that  he  spun  his  visions  of  the  aspiring  soul  and  the 
redemption  of  man,  which  were  to  become  the  fundamental  doc- 
trines of  his  sect.  Legend  has  Baal-Shem  variously  as  a 
bahelfer — a religious  teacher’s  assistant — as  a synagogue 
shammes  in  a Galician  town,  and  as  a drover  in  Volhynia.  His 
humble  calling  exposed  him  to  the  ridicule  of  his  middle-class  op- 
ponents, the  misnagdim,  but  it  was  of  tremendous  advantage  to 
him  in  his  evangelical  labors  among  the  common  people,  for  he 
spoke  the  folk-language  and  articulated  their  spiritual  hungers  and 

The  immediate  and  widespread  success  of  Hasidism  was  due  to 
a variety  of  historical  reasons.  One  hundred  years  before  there 
had  been  the  Thirty  Years  War  in  which  the  Jews  suffered  more 
than  any  others  and  from  whose  frightful  ravages  they  never 



fully  recovered.  In  1648  two  cataclysmic  events  occurred.  The 
first  took  place  during  the  Cossack  uprising  against  Polish  rule, 
led  by  the  Hetman  Bogdan  Chmielnicki.  In  the  course  of  the 
struggle,  terrible  barbarities  were  perpetrated  on  the  Jews.  Some 
three  hundred  thousand,  or  about  half  of  the  Jewish  population  in 
the  Ukraine,  were  massacred.  The  terrors  of  the  time  greatly 
resembled  those  initiated  against  the  Jews  by  the  Nazis  in  our 

The  effect  of  these  mass-atrocities  on  the  Jews  of  the  world  was 
prostrating.  Many  thought  that  the  end  of  the  world  was  already 
at  hand,  for  one  of  the  Jewish  Messianic  traditions  is  that,  when 
the  suffering  of  the  Jewish  people  will  have  reached  its  most  des- 
perate point,  God  in  His  mercy  will  send  the  Messiah  to  redeem 

During  the  year  that  the  atrocities  in  the  Ukraine  occurred,  a 
young  Turkish  Jew  of  arresting  personality  and  magnetism,  an- 
nounced himself  as  the  Messiah  in  the  city  of  Salonika.  This  was 
the  cabalist  Sabbatai  Zevi.  Because  the  Jews  of  his  day  had  the 
will  to  believe  in  a supernatural  instrumentality  that  would  save 
them  from  further  disaster,  he  came  as  the  answer  to  their  pray- 
ers. Messianic  hysteria  swept  like  a conflagration  over  all  of  Eu- 
ropean Jewry.  Tens  of  thousands  liquidated  their  worldly  affairs 
and  readied  themselves  for  the  End  of  Days. 

The  result  was  the  only  one  that  could  be  expected  under  the 
circumstances:  disillusionment.  The  psychologically  complicated 
Sabbatai  Zevi,  after  a series  of  exciting  adventures,  failed  his  fol- 
lowers in  the  end:  he  embraced  Mohammedanism.  The  Jews  of 
the  world  were  split  wide  apart  over  the  issue  and  the  so-called 
“Sabbatian”  controversy  raged  bitterly  for  more  than  a hundred 
years.  But  the  effect  of  this  debacle  on  the  Jewish  masses  was 
paralyzing.  They  grieved  and  sank  into  a deep  apathy. 

However,  poverty  and  persecution  continued  as  usual.  Confined 
in  crowded  ghettos,  deprived  of  normal  outlets  for  their  energies, 
most  Jews  sought  refuge  in  cabalistic  superstitions  and  practices. 
To  the  Talmudic  rationalists  of  the  day  religious  worship  had  be- 
come ever  more  formalistic,  suffering  from  a diminishing  emo- 
tional content.  The  common  folk  could  find  no  satisfaction  in  it, 
for  many  could  barely  read  Hebrew  and  had  been  taught  to  recite 
their  prayers  parrot-fashion. 

It  was,  therefore,  as  if  in  answer  to  a universal  need  for  a com- 
forter, that  Baal-Shem  appeared.  He  went  from  town  to  town, 
preaching  an  evangel  of  faith  and  joy.  Laughter,  song  and  the 
dance,  he  said,  were  the  highest  forms  of  prayer.  Love  of  God  he 
declared  more  important  than  formalistic  religious  worship.  To 
do  good  among  men  was  better  than  to  observe  the  minutiae  of 
Law  and  Ritual.  Baal-Shem  sanctified  all  that  was  humble,  that 
was  workaday.  But  all-fundamental  was  his  central  doctrine  of 



love:  love  of  God  and  love  of  man.  All  life  was  holy,  he  said. 
The  dry-as-dust,  learned  Talmudist  or  rabbi  had  less  of  a chance 
to  taste  the  beatitude  of  the  spirit  and  the  rewards  of  Paradise 
than  the  pure  in  heart  and  the  humble,  even  though  they  might 
be  illiterate. 

The  evangel  of  Hasidism  that  Baal-Shem  and  his  disciples 
preached  was  therefore  as  much  of  a socio-ethical  nature  as  it 
was  religious.  It  revitalized  the  Jewish  spirit,  revived  hope,  gave 
the  people  an  affirmative  philosophy  of  life  that  was  warmly  emo- 
tional, highly  ethical,  rich  in  earthiness  though  very  mystical  It 
was  a liveable,  workable  way  of  life,  regardless  of  its  admitted 
serious  shortcomings. 

The  Rabbinic  authorities,  the  Talmudic  traditionalists,  naturally 
condemned  the  new  sect  as  heretical.  They  even  pronounced  the 
ban  of  excommunication  against  Baal-Shem.  But  all  in  vain. 
Hasidism  was  like  a tidal  wave  sweeping  over  Galicia,  Poland, 
Hungary,  parts  of  the  Ukraine  and  Lithuania.  Nothing  could  stop 
it,  for  it  answered  an  urgent  need;  the  Jewish  masses  could  not 
survive  spiritually  without  it. 

Unfortunately,  Hasidism,  like  so  many  other  religious  sects, 
carried  within  itself  the  seed  of  corruption.  It  was  inherent  in  the 
very  institution  of  the  Tzaddik— the  Holy  Man  and  Wonder- 
Worker — who  became  dynastic  and  was  motivated  sometimes  by 
less  than  spiritual  motives.  As  the  intermediary  between  God’s 
and  man’s  desires,  the  Tzaddik  was  courted  and  adulated  and  of- 
fered gifts  of  money  by  his  worshipping  followers.  It  was  but 
natural  that  some  should  have  been  tempted  and  thus  flung  the 
entire,  sect  into  disrepute.  This  led  to  a vulgarization  of  Baal- 
Shem  s exalted  teachings.  None  the  less,  the  spirit  of  the  move- 
ment withstood  all  the  corrosions  among  the  plain  folk,  as  the 
numerous  Hasidic  legends  and  anecdotes  in  this  collection  reveal. 

Although  Hasidism,  as  a movement,  is  practically  extinct  at  the 
present  time,  isolated  circles  of  Hasidim  are  still  to  be  found, 
even  m New  York,  Boston,  Philadelphia  and  Chicago.  There  are 
also  neo-Hasidim.  These  are  usually  of  a sophisticated,  intellec- 
tual-mystical bent.  Professor  Martin  Buber  has  been  their  leader, 

wr!  Va"°US  tUneS  has  had  such  influential  adherents  as  Franz 
Werfel,  Marc  Chagall,  Franz  Kafka,  Max  Brod  and  Arnold 


Why  Rabbi  Israel  Laughed  Three  Times 34 

One, Friday  nigbt  Rabbi  Is™el  Baal-Shem,  together  with  all 

his  disciples,  ushered  in  the  Sabbath  Bride  with  joyous  ec- 



stasy.  But  immediately  after  he  had  recited  the  benediction  he 
leaned  back  in  his  chair  and  laughed  uproariously. 

The  disciples  who  sat  around  him  looked  on  in  stunned 
silence.  They  were  too  over-awed  by  his  sanctity  to  ask  him 
why  he  laughed  so.  There  was  nothing  they  could  see  that 
could  have  given  him  cause  for  such  laughter. 

A while  later  he  laughed  again,  and  shortly  thereafter,  he 
laughed  for  the  third  time. 

The  disciples  were  filled  with  amazement.  Never  before 
had  they  seen  him  do  anything  like  it. 

Now  it  was  the  custom  of  Rabbi  Israel  that  after  the 
Habdalah,  the  prayer  service  that  ushered  out  the  departing 
Sabbath  Bride,  he  would  light  his  long-stemmed  pipe.  Then 
his  disciple,  Rabbi  Kitzes,  would  enter  his  study  and  put  to 
him  all  the  questions  about  matters  that  had  puzzled  the  dis- 

This  time  Rabbi  Kitzes  asked  him,  “Do  tell  me.  Rabbi, 
why  did  you  laugh  three  times  yesterday?  It  must  have  been 
for  some  good  reason.” 

“Have  patience,  I will  soon  reveal  to  you  the  reason  why  I 
laughed,”  replied  Rabbi  Israel. 

Another  Sabbath  custom  of  Rabbi  Israel’s  was  that  every 
Sabbath  night  after  the  Habdalah  he  would  ride  out  of 
Miedziboz  into  the  country.  This  time  he  ordered  his  coach- 
man to  make  ready  the  large  carriage.  He  took  along  with 
him  on  this  journey  his  closest  disciples. 

All  night  long  they  rode  in  utter  darkness,  without  knowing 
where  they  were  going.  When  morning  came  they  suddenly 
found  themselves  in  the  town  of  Kozenitz.  So  they  went  to 
call  on  the  head  of  the  community. 

The  whole  town  was  full  of  excitement.  Everybody  talked 
of  nothing  but  of  Rabbi  Israel’s  arrival.  Many  came  to  stand 
at  a respectful  distance  and  look  upon  his  holy,  radiant  face. 

After  Rabbi  Israel  had  finished  the  morning  service  he  said 
to  the  head  of  the  community,  “Send  for  Reb  Shabsi,  the 

“Shabsi,  the  bookbinder!”  cried  the  elder,  hardly  believing 
what  he  had  heard.  “What  do  you  want  to  see  that  old  man 
for?  While  we  consider  him  a good  man  he  is  not  very 
learned  in  the  Law.  It  seems  to  me,  Rabbi,  that  it  won’t  be 
adding  much  dignity  to  a man  of  your  greatness  to  talk  to 
such  a common  person.  After  all,  we  do  have  great  scholars 


and  cabalists  in  Kozenitz.  Surely  you  have  more  in  common 
with  them?” 

But  Rabbi  Israel  was  firm. 

“I  have  urgent  need  of  Reb  Shabsi,  the  bookbinder!”  he  in- 
sisted. “I  must  talk  with  him.” 

So  a special  messenger  was  sent  to  fetch  Reb  Shabsi  and 
his  wife. 

When  they  finally  arrived  Rabbi  Israel  said  to  him, 
“Shabsi,  I want  you  to  tell  all  of  us  here  what  you  did  last 
night.  But  you  must  tell  the  truth — conceal  nothing!” 

“I  will  tell  you  everything  that  happened,  dear  Rabbi,”  be- 
gan Reb  Shabsi.  “And,  if  I have  sinned  in  any  way,  I trust 
you  will  punish  me  with  the  right  penance. 

“Ever  since  I got  married  I have  earned  my  livelihood 
from  binding  books.  I did  well  at  one  time.  Every  Thursday 
I’d  give  my  wife  enough  money  to  make  the  necessary  Sab- 
bath purchases  of  chaleh,  fish,  meat,  wine  and  wax  candles. 
On  Friday  morning  I closed  shop  at  ten  o’clock  and  went  to 
the  synagogue.  There  I cantillated  the  Song  of  Songs  and  re- 
mained all  day  until  after  the  evening  services.  That  was  my 
custom  all  along  until  I grew  old. 

“Now  I no  longer  have  the  energy  to  toil  as  I did  before.  I 
can  hardly  earn  anything.  When  Thursday  arrives  my  wife 
can  no  longer  afford  to  make  the  necessary  Sabbath  pur- 
chases. There  is  only  one  precept  that  I’ve  been  able  to  follow 
scrupulously  in  the  days  of  my  decline.  At  ten  o’clock  on  Fri- 
day morning  I still  close  my  shop  and  go  to  the  House  of 

“Last  Friday  morning  I found  I did  not  have  even  a gro- 
schen  to  give  my  wife,  and  I knew  no  one  from  whom  I 
could  borrow  money,  even  for  chaleh.  I could  not  stoop  to 
beg.  Never  in  my  life  have  I asked  such  help  from  people. 
Only  in  God  did  I place  my  trust  and,  when  I saw  that  God 
had  failed  to  provide  for  me  the  necessities  for  the  Sabbath,  I 
understood  that  it  was  just  that  it  should  be  so. 

“I  then  made  up  my  mind  to  fast  throughout  the  Sabbath. 
I had  only  one  fear — that  my  wife  would  not  be  able  to  con- 
tain herself  and  would  tell  the  neighbors.  If  she  did  they 
would  surely  give  her  chaleh  and  other  Sabbath  foods.  So  I 
begged  her  not  to  accept  any  help  from  anyone,  no  matter 
what  happened. 

“Before  I left  for  the  synagogue  I told  my  wife  that  I 
planned  to  come  home  that  Friday  night  later  than  usual 



from  the  synagogue.  I was  afraid  that  I might  accidentally 
meet  some  neighbor  on  the  way  who  would  be  likely  to  ask 
me  why  there  were  no  Sabbath  candles  burning  in  my  house. 
So  I remained  behind  in  the  synagogue  until  all  had  gone 
home — then  I left. 

“While  I was  away  in  the  synagogue  my  old  woman  tidied 
up  the  house  in  honor  of  the  Sabbath.  But,  as  she  was  putting 
things  in  order,  she  unexpectedly  found  an  old  jacket  that  she 
had  mislaid  for  a long  time.  The  jacket  had  silver  buttons 
overlaid  with  gold,  as  was  the  fashion  in  olden  times.  So  my 
wife  went  and  sold  the  buttons  and,  for  the  money,  she 
bought  candles  because  I had  told  her  that  I would  be  late  in 
coming.  She  also  bought  chaleh,  fish,  meat  and  had  some 
money  left  besides. 

“I  returned  home  from  the  synagogue  quite  late.  What  was 
my  surprise  to  see  large  candles  burning  as  I approached  my 
house!  I thought:  ‘Alas,  my  old  woman  couldn’t  hold  back 
from  telling  her  troubles  to  her  neighbors!’  When  I entered  the 
house  I found  the  table  set.  There  was  wine  for  the  bene- 
diction, and  chaleh  and  all  good  things.  I did  not  say  any- 
thing to  my  wife  because  I did  not  wish  to  mar  the  Sabbath 

“My  old  woman  saw,  however,  that  I was  not  in  a good 
mood.  So,  after  I had  recited  the  benediction,  she  said  to  me, 
‘Do  you  remember,  Shabsi,  how  long  I’ve  been  looking  for 
my  old  jacket  with  the  silver  buttons?  Well  I found  it  after 
you  had  left  for  the  synagogue.  I sold  the  buttons,  and  what 
you  see  here  was  bought  with  the  money  I got  for  them.’ 

“When  I heard  this  my  joy  was  indescribable.  I even  shed 
tears  and  thanked  the  heavenly  Father  that  we  could  observe 
the  Sabbath  decently  without  anybody’s  help.  My  joy  was  so 
great  that  I arose  from  the  table,  took  my  old  woman  by  the 
hand  and  we  began  to  dance.  After  we  had  finished  the  soup 
we  danced  once  more,  and  after  the  sweet  tzimmes,  the 
dessert,  we  danced  for  the  third  time. 

“And  so,  Holy  Rabbi,  if  you  think  that  by  doing  this  I 
have  sinned,  then  I beg  you  to  judge  me,  and  what  you  say 
I’ll  do.  God  alone  knows  the  truth  that  in  dancing  my  inten- 
tion was  not  to  display  levity  but  to  praise  and  thank  Him  for 
the  grace  and  loving-kindness  He  has  shown  me.” 

And  when  the  old  man  had  finished  speaking  Rabbi  Israel 
turned  to  his  disciples  and  said,  “Believe  me,  when  Reb 
Shabsi  and  his  old  woman  laughed  and  danced  with  joy  all 



the  angels  in  heaven  could  not  restrain  themselves  and  they 
too  laughed  and  danced  through  the  celestial  halls.  And,  if 
the  angels  of  heaven  could  not  restrain  themselves,  how  could 
I?  So  I laughed  once,  twice  and  three  times,  just  as  they  did!” 

Then  Rabbi  Israel  called  to  the  bookbinder  and  his  wife. 

“Come  nearer — tell  me  what  you  wish!  Tell  me  what  your 
heart  most  desires.  Do  you  wish  to  be  rich,  to  live  in  luxury 
and  honor,  or  would  you  rather  have  a son  to  comfort  you  in 
your  old  age?” 

Do  not  mock  at  us,  Holy  Rabbi,”  Reb  Shabsi  answered. 
“We  are  both  already  very  old  and  we  never  had  a child  be- 
fore. Of  course,  what  do  we  want  with  riches?  We’d  rather 
have  a son  whom  we  can  love  and  who  will  be  a comfort  to 
us  in  our  old  age.” 

“Go  in  peace,  then,”  said  Rabbi  Israel.  “Know  that  before 
the  year  is  over  you  will  have  a son.  I will  come  to  his  cir- 
cumcision and  will  act  as  his  god-father.  You  will  give  him 
my  name,  Israel.” 

And  it  happened  just  as  Rabbi  Israel  said.  Within  a year  a 
child  was  bom  to  the  old  bookbinder  and  his  wife.  Rabbi  Is- 
rael was  his  god-father  and  he  blessed  him.  As  the  years 
passed  the  boy  became  the  illustrious  Preacher  of  Kozenitz 
with  whose  wisdom  the  whole  world  became  full.  He  was  a 
saint  and  a sage,  and  may  his  fragrant  memory  be  a blessing 
to  all  of  us!  Amen! 

The  Book  of  Mysteries r35 

When  the  children  of  Horodenka  ceased  to  sing,  Israel  was 
no  longer  content  to  remain  in  that  place.  He  wandered 
again,  and  returned  to  the  town  of  Okup,  where  he  had  been 
born.  There  he  became  the  watcher  of  the  synagogue. 

The  desire  for  knowledge  came  into  him;  and  the  joy  that 
was  given  him  by  flowers  and  beasts  in  the  forests  was  no 
longer  sufficient.  His  mind  was  afire  and  thirsty,  but  his  thirst 
could  be  quenched  only  by  those  waters  that  had  cooled  for 
ages  deep  in  the  deepest  wells  of  mystery,  and  the  fire  within 
him  was  of  the  sort  that  burns  forever,  and  does  not  con- 

The  innermost  secrets  of  the  Cabbala  were  for  him,  and 
they  were  only  as  stars  of  night  against  the  sun.  For  to  him 
would  be  revealed  the  Secret  of  Secrets. 



The  boy  lived  in  the  synagogue.  But  since  the  time  for  the 
revelation  of  his  power  was  yet  far  away,  he  did  not  show  his 
passion  for  the  Torah  to  the  men  of  the  synagogue.  By  day, 
he  slept,  on  the  benches,  pretending  to  be  a clod.  But  as  soon 
as  the  last  of  the  scholars  blew  out  his  candle  and  crept  on 
his  way  toward  home,  Israel  rose,  and  took  the  candle  into  a 
corner,  and  lighted  it,  and  all  night  long  he  stood  and  read 
the  Torah. 

In  another  city  the  Tsadik  Rabbi  Adam,  master  of  all  mys- 
teries, waited  the  coming  of  his  last  day.  For  in  each  gener- 
ation one  is  chosen  to  carry  throughout  his  lifetime  the 
candle  that  is  lighted  from  heaven.  And  the  candle  may  never 
be  set  down.  And  the  soul  of  the  Tsadik  may  not  return  to 
eternal  peace  in  the  regions  above  until  another  such  soul  il- 
luminates the  earth. 

Rabbi  Adam  was  even  greater  than  the  Tsadikim  who  had 
been  before  him.  For  in  the  possession  of  Rabbi  Adam  was 
the  Book  that  contains  the  Word  of  eternal  might. 

Though  Rabbi  Adam  was  not  one  of  the  Innocent  souls,  he 
had  led  a life  so  pure  that  this  Book  had  been  given  into  his 
hands.  Before  him,  only  six  human  beings  had  possessed  the 
knowledge  that  was  in  the  Book  of  Adam.  The  Book  was 
given  to  the  first  man,  Adam,  and  it  was  given  to  Abraham, 
to  Joseph,  to  Joshua  ben  Nun,  and  to  Solomon.  And  the  sev- 
enth to  whom  it  was  given  was  the  Tsadik,  Rabbi  Adam. 

This  is  how  he  came  to  receive  the  Book. 

When  he  had  learned  all  Torah,  and  all  Cabbala,  he  had 
not  been  content,  but  had  searched  day  and  night  for  the  in- 
nermost secret  of  power.  When  he  knew  all  the  learning  that 
there  was  among  men,  he  said,  “Man  does  not  know.”  And  he 
had  begged  of  the  angels. 

One  night  Rabbi  Adam  arose  from  his  sleep.  He  walked 
into  a wilderness.  Before  him  stood  a mountain,  and  in  the 
side  of  the  mountain  was  a cave.  And  that  was  one  mouth  of 
the  cave,  whose  other  mouth  was  in  the  Holy  Land.  It  was 
the  cave  of  the  Machpelah,  where  Abraham  lies  buried. 

Rabbi  Adam  went  deep  into  the  cave,  and  there  he  found 
the  Book. 

All  of  his  life  Rabbi  Adam  had  guarded  the  secret  of 
knowledge.  Gazing  into  it,  he  had  grown  old,  and  he  had 
come  to  see  with  the  grave  eyes  of  one  who  sees  to  the  end  of 



And  when  he  saw  himself  growing  old,  he  began  to  ask, 
“What  will  become  of  my  wisdom?” 

Then  he  rose,  and  looked  to  the  Lord  and  said,  “To  whom, 
Almighty  God,  shall  I leave  the  Book  of  Wisdom?  Give  me  a 
son,  that  I may  teach  him.” 

He  was  given  a son.  His  son  grew,  and  became  learned  in 
the  Torah.  The  rabbi  taught  his  son  all  that  there  was  in  the 
Torah.  And  he  said,  “My  son  learns  well.”  He  began  to  teach 
his  son  the  Cabbala.  His  son  was  sharp  in  understanding.  But 
when  the  boy  had  learned  the  secrets  of  the  Cabbala,  he 
asked  no  more.  Then  the  old  heart  of  Rabbi  Adam  was 
weary  and  yearned  for  death.  “My  son  is  not  the  one,”  he 

Night  after  night  Rabbi  Adam  prayed  to  the  Almighty  that 
he  might  be  relieved  of  the  burden  of  knowledge.  And  one 
night  the  word  came  to  him,  saying,  “Give  the  Book  into  the 
hands  of  Rabbi  Israel,  son  of  Eleazer,  who  lives  in  Okup.” 

Rabbi  Adam  was  thankful,  for  now  he  might  give  over  his 
burden,  and  die.  He  said  to  his  son,  “Here  is  one  book  in 
which  I have  not  read  with  you.” 

His  son  asked,  “Was  I not  worthy?” 

“You  are  not  the  predestined  vessel,”  said  Rabbi  Adam. 
“You  would  break  with  the  heat  of  the  fluid.” 

Then  he  said  to  his  son,  “Seek  out  Rabbi  Israel,  in  the  city 
of  Okup,  for  these  leaves  belong  to  him.  And  if  he  will  be  fa- 
vourable toward  you  and  receive  you  as  his  servant  and  in- 
struct you  in  his  Torah,  then  count  yourself  happy.  For,  my 
son,  you  must  know  that  it  is  your  fate  to  be  the  squire  who 
gives  into  the  hands  of  his  knight  the  sword  that  has  been 
tempered  and  sharpened  by  hundreds  of  divine  spirits  that 
now  lie  silent  under  the  earth.” 

Soon  Rabbi  Adam  died.  His  son  did  not  think  of  himself, 
but  thought  only  of  fulfilling  the  mission  his  father  had  given 
into  his  charge.  He  deserted  the  city  of  his  birth  and,  taking 
with  him  the  leaves  of  the  Book,  went  in  search  of  that  Rabbi 
Israel  of  whom  his  father  had  spoken. 

The  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  came  to  the  town  of  Okup.  He 
wished  to  keep  secret  the  true  reason  of  his  coming,  so  he 
said,  “I  am  seeking  a bride.  I would  marry,  and  live  my  life 
here.”  The  people  of  the  town  were  delighted,  and  felt  greatly 
honoured  because  the  son  of  the  Tsadik,  Rabbi  Adam,  had 
chosen  to  live  among  them. 



Every  day  he  went  to  the  synagogue.  There  he  encountered 
scholars,  and  holy  men,  and  rabbis.  He  asked  their  names  of 
them.  But  he  did  not  meet  with  any  one  called  Rabbi  Israel, 
son  of  Rabbi  Eleazer. 

Often,  when  all  the  others  had  gone  from  the  synagogue. 
Rabbi  Adam’s  son  remained  studying  the  Torah.  Then  he  no- 
ticed that  the  boy  who  served  in  the  synagogue  also  remained 
there,  he  saw  that  the  eyes  of  the  boy  were  bright  with  inner 
knowledge,  and  that  his  face  was  strained  with  unworldly 

Rabbi  Adam’s  son  went  to  the  elders  of  the  house  of 
prayer  and  said  to  them,  “Let  me  have  a separate  room  in 
which  to  study.  Perhaps  I shall  want  to  sleep  there  sometimes 
when  I study  late  into  the  night.  Then  give  me  the  boy  Israel 
as  a servant.” 

“Why  has  lie  chosen  the  boy  Israel,  who  is  a clod?”  the 
elders  asked. 

Then  they  remembered  that  Israel  was  the  son  of  Rabbi 
Eleazer.  “He  has  chosen  him  to  honour  the  memory  of  his 
father,  Eleazer,  who  was  a very  holy  man,”  they  said. 

When  the  boy  came  to  serve  him,  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam 
asked,  “What  is  your  name?” 

“Israel,  son  of  Eleazer.” 

The  master  watched  the  boy,  and  soon  came  to  feel  certain 
that  this  was  indeed  the  Rabbi  Israel  whom  he  sought. 

One  night  he  remained  late  in  the  synagogue.  He  lay  down 
on  a bench,  and  pretended  to  be  asleep.  He  opened  his  eyes  a 
little,  and  he  saw  how  the  boy  Israel  arose  and  took  a candle 
and  lighted  it,  and  covered  the  light,  standing  in  a corner  and 
studying  the  Torah.  For  many  hours  the  boy  remained  mo- 
tionless in  an  intensity  of  study  that  the  rabbi  had  known 
only  in  his  father,  the  Tsadik  Rabbi  Adam. 

All  night  long  the  boy  studied.  And  when  the  sunrise  em- 
braced his  candle  flame,  he  slipped  down  upon  the  bench, 
and  slept. 

Then  the  rabbi  arose  and  took  a leaf  from  the  holy  book 
his  father  had  given  him,  and  placed  the  leaf  on  the  breast  of 

Soon  the  boy  stirred,  and  sleeping  reached  his  hand  toward 
the  page  of  writing.  He  held  the  page  before  his  eyes,  and 
opened  his  eyes  and  read.  As  he  read,  he  rose.  He  bent  over 
the  page  of  mysteries,  and  studied  it,  and  his  whole  face  was 
aflame,  his  eyes  glowed  as  if  they  had  pierced  into  the  heart 



of  the  earth,  and  his  hands  burned  as  if  they  lay  against  the 
heart  of  the  earth. 

When  full  day  came,  the  boy  fell  powerless  upon  the 
bench,  and  slept. 

The  rabbi  sat  by  him  and  watched  over  him  until  he  awoke 
again.  Then  the  rabbi  placed  his  hand  upon  the  boy’s  hand 
that  held  the  leaf  out  of  the  book.  The  rabbi  took  the  other 
pages  of  the  book,  and  gave  them  to  him,  saying:  “Know, 
that  I place  in  your  hands  the  infinite  wisdom  that  God  gave 
forth  on  Mount  Sinai.  The  words  that  are  in  this  book  have 
been  entrusted  only  in  the  hearts  of  the  chosen  of  the  chosen. 
When  no  soul  on  earth  was  worthy  to  contain  its  wisdom,  this 
book  lay  hidden  from  man.  For  centuries  it  was  buried  in  un- 
reachable depths.  But  always  there  came  the  time  for  its 
uncovering,  again  it  was  brought  to  light,  again  lost.  My  fa- 
ther was  the  last  of  the  great  souls  to  whom  it  was  entrusted. 
I was  not  found  worthy  of  retaining  it,  and  through  my 
hands  my  father  transmits  this  book  to  your  hands.  I beg  of 
you,  Rabbi  Israel,  allow  me  to  be  your  servant,  let  me  be  as 
the  air  about  you,  absorbing  your  holy  words,  that  otherwise 
would  be  lost  in  nothingness.” 

Israel  answered,  “Let  it  be  so.  We  will  go  out  of  the  city, 
and  give  ourselves  over  to  the  study  of  this  book.” 

The  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  went  with  Israel  to  live  in  a house 
that  stood  outside  of  the  town.  There,  day  and  night,  they 
were  absorbed  in  the  study  of  the  pages  that  contained  the 
words  of  all  the  mysteries. 

Israel  was  as  one  who  feeds  on  honey  and  walks  on  golden 
clouds.  His  soul  swelled  with  tranquil  joy,  and  his  heart  was 
filled  with  the  peace  of  understanding.  Often,  he  went  with 
the  leaves  of  the  book  into  the  forest,  and  there,  the  words  of 
the  book  were  as  the  words  spoken  to  him  by  the  flowers  and 
by  the  beasts.  ' 

But  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  was  eaten  by  that  upon  which 
he  fed,  and  yet  his  hunger  grew  ever  more  insatiable.  The 
grander  the  visions  that  opened  before  him,  the  greater  was 
the  cavern  within  himself.  And  he  was  afraid,  as  one  who 
stands  on  a great  height  and  looks  downward. 

Each  day,  his  eyes  sank  deeper,  and  became  more  red. 

Rabbi  Israel,  seeing  the  illness  that  was  come  into  his  com- 



panion,  said  to  him,  “What  is  it  that  consumes  you?  What  is 
it  that  you  desire?” 

Then  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  said,  “Only  one  thing  can 
give  me  rest.  All  that  has  been  revealed  to  me  has  set  me 
flaming  with  a single  curiosity,  and  each  new  mystery  that  is 
solved  before  me  only  causes  a greater  chaos  in  my  mind, 
and  a greater  hunger  in  my  heart.” 

“What  is  the  one  thing  that  you  desire?” 

“Reveal  the  Word  to  me!” 

“The  Word  is  inviolate!”  cried  Rabbi  Israel. 

But  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  fell  on  his  knees  and  cried, 
“Until  I see  the  end  of  all  wisdom,  I cannot  come  to  rest!  Call 
down  the  highest  of  powers,  the  Giver  of  the  Torah  Himself, 
force  Him  to  come  down  to  us,  otherwise  I am  lost!” 

Then  the  Master  shrank  from  him.  He  said,  “The  hour  has 
not  yet  come  for  His  descent  to  earth.” 

His  companion  was  silent.  He  never  pleaded  with  Israel 

But  each  day  Rabbi  Israel  saw  his  face  become  darker,  and 
his  body  become  more  feeble.  The  hands  were  weak,  and 
could  hardly  turn  a leaf. 

Rabbi  Israel  was  torn  with  pity  for  his  companion. 

At  last  he  said,  “Is  it  still  your  wish  that  we  name  the  Giver 
of  the  Torah,  and  call  Him  to  earth  once  more?” 

The  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  remained  silent.  But  he  lifted  his 
eyes  to  the  eyes  of  Rabbi  Israel.  They  were  as  the  eyes  of  the 
dead  come  to  life. 

‘Then  we  must  purify  our  souls,  that  they  may  reach  the 
uttermost  power  of  will.” 

On  Friday,  the  two  rabbis  went  to  the  mikweh,  where  they 
bathed  in  the  spring  of  holy  water.  From  Sabbath  to  Sabbath 
they  fasted,  and  when  they  reached  the  height  of  their  fast 
they  went  again  to  the  mikweh,  and  purified  themselves  in 
the  bath. 

On  the  second  Friday  night  they  stood  in  their  house  of 
prayer.  They  called  upon  their  own  souls  and  said,  “Are  you 
pure?”  Their  souls  answered,  “We  have  been  purified.” 

Then  Rabbi  Israel  raised  his  hands  into  the  darkness,  and 
cried  out  the  terrible  Name. 

The  son  of  Rabbi  Adam  raised  his  arms  aloft,  and  his 
feeble  lips  moved  as  he  repeated  the  unknowable  Word. 

But  in  the  instant  that  the  word  left  those  lips,  Israel 
touched  him  and  said,  “My  brother,  you  have  made  an  error! 



Your  command  was  wrongly  uttered,  it  has  been  caught  by 
the  wind,  it  has  been  carried  to  the  Lord  of  Fire!  We  are  in 
the  hands  of  death.” 

“I  am  lost,”  said  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam,  “for  I am  not 

“Only  one  way  is  left  to  us,”  cried  Rabbi  Israel.  “We  must 
watch  until  day  comes.  If  one  of  us  closes  an  eyelid,  the  evil 
one  will  seize  him,  he  is  lost.” 

Then  they  began  to  watch.  They  stood  guard  over  their 
souls.  With  their  eyes  open  they  watched.  And  the  hours 
passed.  They  stood  in  prayer,  and  the  hours  passed. 

But  as  dawn  came,  the  son  of  Rabbi  Adam,  enfeebled  by 
his  week  of  purification,  and  by  the  long  struggle  against  the 
darkness  of  night,  wavered,  his  head  nodded,  and  sank  upcn 
the  table. 

Rabbi  Israel  reached  out  his  arm  to  raise  him.  But  in  that 
moment  an  unseen  thing  sped  from  the  mouth  of  Rabbi 
Adam’s  son,  and  a flame  devoured  his  heart,  and  his  body 
sank  to  the  ground. 

The  Trial  of  Rabbi  Gershon 38 

Rabbi  Gershon  of  Kuth  would  not  believe  in  the  power  of 
his  brother-in-law.  He  said,  “Rabbi  Israel  is  nothing  but  a 
lime-burner  come  out  of  the  mountains.  He  couldn’t  even 
earn  a living  as  a tavemkeeper.” 

Once  he  went  to  Medzibuz  to  visit  his  sister.  And  he 
thought,  “Let  me  see  the  wonder-working  of  this  brother-in- 
law  of  mine.”  So  he  remained  over  the  Sabbath. 

On  Friday  afternoon  he  saw  Rabbi  Israel  prepare  for  the 
Mincha  prayer.  “But  it  is  still  very  early,”  said  Rabbi  Ger- 
shon. Nevertheless,  the  Master  began  to  pray.  And  when 
Rabbi  Israel  came  to  say  the  benediction  he  remained  stand- 
ing motionless  on  his  feet  for  four  whole  hours.  Perspiration 
was  upon  his  forehead,  and  his  face  was  in  an  agony  of  la- 
bour. But  at  last  he  made  an  end  to  his  prayer. 

“Why  did  you  take  four  hours  to  say  the  benedictions?” 
asked  Rabbi  Gershon. 

“Stay  until  next  Sabbath,”  said  Rabbi  Israel,  “and  I shall 
teach  you  how  to  say  the  benedictions  as  I say  them.” 

Now,  the  truth  was  that  when  the  Master  said  the  bene- 
dictions on  the  eve  of  Sabbath,  he  first  uttered  the  Word  of 
the  Will,  that  sundered  the  bonds  of  all  dead  and  living  souls. 



Then  myriads  of  dead  souls  came  rushing  toward  him  out  of 
their  eternal  wandering  in  nothingness,  and  begged  him  to 
put  them  in  his  prayers,  so  that  his  prayers  might  at  last  carry 
them  into  heaven. 

When  he  uttered  the  words  “Quicken  the  Dead!”  he  was 
always  surrounded  by  these  innumerable  exiled  souls,  and  it 
was  the  labour  of  carrying  these  souls  into  heaven  that  occu- 
pied him  for  so  many  hours.  But  at  this  labour  he  worked  un- 
ceasingly, lifting  the  dead  souls  onto  the  wings  of  his 
powerful  prayers,  and  sending  them  into  heaven,  until  he 
heard  the  Daughter  of  the  Voice  call  “Holy!  Holy!”  Then  he 
knew  that  no  more  souls  could  be  admitted  into  heaven  on 
that  day,  and  he  made  an  end  to  his  prayer. 

On  the  following  Friday  afternoon  the  Baal  Shem  Tov  said 
to  his  brother-in-law  Rabbi  Gershon,  “I  will  tell  you  a word 
to  utter  before  you  begin  the  Mincha  prayer.  Then  you  will 
understand  why  I remain  so  many  hours  over  the  bene- 
dictions.” And  he  whispered  the  secret  Word  of  the  Will  to 
Rabbi  Gershon. 

Rabbi  Gershon  repeated  the  Word,  and  began  to  say  Min- 

But  Rabbi  Israel  himself  did  not  begin  to  pray.  He  stood 
and  toyed  with  his  tobacco  pouch,  and  fingered  the  alms-box, 
and  waited.  He  waited  until  Rabbi  Gershon  came  to  the 
words  “Quicken  the  Dead!” 

And  in  that  instant  there  came  a terrible  rush  of  souls, 
thousands  upon  thousands  of  dead  souls  came  flying  to  crowd 
weeping  and  shrieking  and  begging  around  the  praying  Rabbi 
Gershon.  And  Rabbi  Gershon  fainted  with  fright. 

When  the  Baal  Shem  Tov  had  taken  care  of  his  brother- 
in-law,  he  set  himself  to  say  the  benedictions,  and  helped 
those  thousands  of  souls  into  heaven. 

The  Poor  Wayfarer 37 

The  great  wonder-working  saint.  Rabbi  Meier  Primishlaner, 
blessings  on  his  name,  once  related  the  following  story: 

‘ When  I was  a young  man  I had  an  irresistible  desire  to 
see  Elijah  the  Prophet,  and  so  I pleaded  with  my  father  to 
show  him  to  me.  My  father  replied,  ‘If  you  study  the  Torah 
with  unceasing  devotion  you’ll  become  worthy  of  seeing  him.* 

“I,  therefore,  applied  myself  ardently  to  my  studies,  pored 
over  the  sacred  books  by  night  and  by  day  for  four  weeks. 



Then  I went  to  my  father  and  told  him,  ‘I’ve  done  what  you 
asked  me  to  do,  but,  I assure  you,  the  Prophet  Elijah  has 
failed  to  reveal  himself.’ 

“So  my  father  replied,  ‘Don’t  you  be  so  impatient!  If  you 
deserve  it  he’ll  surely  reveal  himself  to  you.’ 

“One  night,  as  I sat  at  my  desk  in  my  father’s  House  of 
Study,  a poor  man  came  in.  He  was  dusty  from  the  road  and 
dressed  in  tatters,  one  patch  laid  on  the  other.  Moreover,  he 
had  a very  ugly  face.  On  his  bent  back  he  carried  a heavy 
pack.  As  he  began  to  put  his  pack  down  I restrained  him. 
Don’t  you  do  this!’  I rebuked  him  angrily.  ‘What  do  you 
take  this  holy  place  to  be — a tavern?’ 

“ Tm  very  tired!’  the  wayfarer  pleaded.  ‘Let  me  rest  here 
awhile,  then  I’ll  look  for  lodgings.’ 

“ ‘It’s  no  use,’  I told  him,  ‘you  can’t  rest  here!  My  father 
doesn  t like  all  kinds  of  tramps  to  come  and  settle  themselves 
here  with  their  dusty  packs.’ 

So  the  stranger  sighed,  lifted  his  pack  to  his  shoulders, 
and  went  away. 

“No  sooner  had  he  gone,  than  my  father  came  in. 

“ ‘Well,  have  you  seen  the  Prophet  Elijah?’  he  asked  me. 

“ ‘No,  not  yet,’  I replied  sadly. 

“ ‘Was,  nobody  here  today?’  he  further  asked. 

Yes,’  I said.  ‘A  poor  wayfarer  carrying  a heavy  pack 
was  here  just  before.’ 

“ ‘Did  you  say  sholom  aleichem  to  him?’ 

“ ‘That  I didn’t.’ 

“ ‘Why  didn’t  you?  Didn’t  you  know  it  was  Elijah?  Now 
I m afraid  it’s  too  late!’ 

Ever  since,  said  Rabbi  Meier  Primishlaner,  concluding 
his  story,  “I’ve  taken  upon  myself  the  sacred  obligation  to  say 
sholom  aleichem  with  a full  heart  to  every  man,  no  matter 
who  he  is,  or  how  he  looks,  or  what  his  station  in  life  may 

The  Cabalists38 

Lt  bad  times  the  finest  merchandise  loses  its  value,  even  the 
lorah  which  is  the  best  Schoirah.  And  thus  of  the  big  Ye- 
shtva  of  Lashtshivo,  there  remained  only  the  principal,  Reb 
Yekel,  and  one  of  his  students. 

The  principal  is  an  old,  lean  Jew,  with  a long  unkempt 
beard  and  extinguished  eyes.  Lemech,  his  favourite  pupil,  is  a 



tall,  slight,  pale-faced  youth,  with  black  curly  locks,  sparkling, 
dark-rimmed  eyes,  dry  lips,  and  an  emaciated  throat,  showing 
the  pointed  Adam’s  apple.  Both  the  principal  and  his  pupil 
are  wearing  tattered  garments  showing  their  naked  breasts,  as 
they  are  top  poor  to  buy  shirts.  With  great  difficulty  the  prin- 
cipal is  dragging  on  his  feet  a pair  of  peasant’s  boots,  whilst 
the  student,  with  stockingless  feet,  is  shuffling  along  in  a pair 
of  sabots  much  too  big  for  him.  The  two  alone  had  remained 
of  all  the  inmates  of  the  once  famous  Yeshiva. 

Since  the  impoverished  townspeople  had  begun  to  send  less 
and  less  food  to  the  Yeshiva  and  to  offer  fewer  days  to  the 
students,  the  latter  had  made  tracks  for  other  towns.  Reb 
Yekel,  however,  was  resolved  to  die  and  be  buried  at  Lasht- 
shivo,  whilst  his  favourite  pupil  was  anxious  to  close  his  be- 
loved master’s  eyes. 

Both  now  very  frequently  suffer  the  pangs  of  hunger.  And 
when  you  take  insufficient  nourishment  your  nights  are  often 
sleepless,  and  after  a good  many  hungry  days  and  sleepless 

nights  you  begin  to  feel  an  inclination  to  study  the  Cabbala. 

If  you  are  already  forced  to  lie  awake  at  night  and  go  hungry 
during  the  day,  then  why  not  at  least  derive  some  benefit 

from  such  a life?  At  least  avail  yourself  of  your  long  fasts 

and  mortifications  of  the  body  to  force  open  the  gates  of  the 
invisible  world  and  get  a glimpse  of  all  the  mysteries  it  con- 
tains, of  angels  and  spirits. 

_ And  thus  the  two  had  been  studying  the  Cabbala  for  some 
time.  They  are  now  seated  at  a long  table  in  the  empty  lec- 
ture-room. Other  Jews  had  already  finished  their  mid-day 
meal,  but  for  these  two  it  was  still  before  breakfast!  They  are, 
however,  quite  used  to  it.  His  eyes  half-shut,  the  principal  is 
talking,  whilst  the  pupil,  his  head  leaning  on  both  his  hands, 
is  listening. 

“There  are,”  the  principal  is  saying,  “four  degrees  of  per- 
fection. One  man  knows  only  a small  portion,  another  a half, 
whilst  a third  knows  an  entire  melody.  The  Rebbe,  of  blessed 
memory,  knew,  for  instance,  an  entire  melody.  And  I,”  he 
added  sadly,  “I  have  only  been  vouchsafed  the  grace  of 
knowing  but  a small  piece,  a very  small  piece,  just  as  big 
as ” 

He  measured  a tiny  portion  of  his  lean  and  emaciated  fin- 
ger, and  continued: 

“There  are  melodies  which  require  words.  That  is  the 
lowest  degree.  There  is  also  a higher  degree;  it  is  a melody 



that  requires  no  words,  it  is  sung  without  words — as  a pure 
melody.  But  even  this  melody  requires  a voice  and  lips  to 
express  itself.  And  the  lips,  you  understand  me,  are  apper- 
taining to  matter.  The  voice  itself,  though  a nobler  and  higher 
form  of  matter,  is  still  material  in  its  essence.  We  may  say 
that  the  voice  is  standing  on  the  border-line  between  matter 
and  spirit.  Anyhow,  the  melody  which  is  still  dependent  upon 
voice  and  lips  is  not  yet  pure,  not  yet  entirely  pure,  not  real 

“The  true,  highest  melody,  however,  is  that  which  is  sung 
without  any  voice.  It  resounds  in  the  interior  of  man,  is  vi- 
brating in  his  heart  and  in  all  his  limbs. 

“And  that  is  how  we  are  to  understand  the  words  of  King 
David,  when  he  says  in  his  Psalms:  ‘All  my  bones  are  prais- 
ing the  Lord.’  The  melody  should  vibrate  in  the  marrow  of 
our  bones,  and  such  is  the  most  beautiful  song  of  praise 
addressed  to  the  Lord,  blessed  be  His  name.  For  such  a mel- 
ody has  not  been  invented  by  a being  of  flesh  and  blood;  it  is 
a portion  of  that  melody  with  which  the  Lord  once  created 
the  Universe:  it  is  a part  of  the  soul  which  He  has  breathed 
into  His  creation.  It  is  thus  that  the  heavenly  hosts  are  sing- 
ing  ” 

The  sudden  arrival  of  a ragged  fellow,  a carrier,  his  loins 
girt  with  a cord,  interrupted  the  lecture.  Entering  the  room, 
the  messenger  placed  a dish  of  gruel  soup  and  a piece  of 
bread  upon  the  table  before  the  Rosh-Y eshiva  and  said  in  a 
rough  voice,  “Reb  Tevel  sends  this  food  for  the  Rosh-Ye- 
shiva.”  Turning  to  the  door,  he  added:  “I  will  come  later  to 
fetch  the  dish.” 

Tom  away  from  the  celestial  harmonies  by  the  sound  of 
the  fellow’s  voice,  the  principal  slowly  and  painfully  rose 
from  his  seat  and  dragged  his  feet  in  their  heavy  boots  to  the 
water  basin  near  the  door,  where  he  performed  the  ritual 
ablution  of  his  hands.  He  continued  to  talk  all  the  time,  but 
with  less  enthusiasm,  whilst  the  pupil  was  following  him  with 
shining,  dreamy  eyes,  and  straining  his  ears. 

“I  have  not  even  been  found  worthy,”  said  the  principal 
sadly,  “to  know  the  degree  at  which  this  can  be  attained,  nor 
do  I know  through  which  of  the  celestial  gates  it  enters.  You 
see,”  he  added  with  a smile,  “I  know  well  enough  the  neces- 
sary mortifications  and  prayers,  and  I will  communicate  them 
to  you  even  to-day.” 

The  eyes  of  the  student  are  almost  starting  out  of  their 



sockets,  and  his  mouth  is  wide  open;  he  is  literally  swallowing 
every  word  his  master  is  uttering.  But  the  master  interrupts 
himself.  He  performs  the  ritual  ablution  of  his  hands,  dries 
them,  and  recites  the  prescribed  benediction;  he  then  returns 
to  the  table  and  breaking  off  a piece  of  bread,  recites  with 
trembling  lips  the  prescribed  blessing.  His  shaking  hands  now 
seize  the  dish,  and  the  moist  vapour  covers  his  emaciated 
face.  He  puts  down  the  dish  upon  the  table,  takes  the  spoon 
into  his  right  hand,  whilst  warming  his  left  at  the  edge  of  the 
dish;  all  the  time  he  is  munching  in  his  toothless  mouth  the 
morsel  of  bread  over  which  he  had  said  a blessing. 

When  his  face  and  hands  were  warm  enough,  he  wrinkled 
his  brow  and  extending  his  thin,  blue  lips,  began  to  blow.  The 
pupil  was  staring  at  him  all  the  time.  But  when  the  trembling 
lips  of  the  old  man  were  stretching  out  to  meet  the  first 
spoonful  of  soup,  something  squeezed  the  young  man’s  heart. 
Covering  his  face  with  his  hands,  he  seemed  to  have  shriv- 
elled up. 

A few  minutes  had  scarcely  elapsed  when  another  man 
came  in,  also  carrying  a basin  full  of  gruel  soup  and  a piece 
of  bread. 

“Reb  Yoissef  sends  the  student  his  breakfast,”  he  said. 

The  student  never  removed  his  hands  from  his  face.  Put- 
ting down  his  own  spoon,  the  principal  rose  and  went  up  to 
him.  For  a moment  he  looked  down  at  the  boy  with  eyes  full 
of  pride  and  love;  then  touching  his  shoulder,  he  said  in  a 
friendly  and  affectionate  voice,  “They  have  brought  you 

Slowly  and  unwillingly  the  student  removed  his  hands  from 
his  face.  He  seemed  to  have  grown  paler  still,  and  his  dark- 
rimmed  eyes  were  burning  with  an  even  more  mysterious  fire. 

I know,  Rabbi,”  he  said,  “but  I am  not  going  to  eat  to- 

“Are  you  going  to  fast  the  fourth  day?”  asked  the  Rosh- 
Yeshiva,  greatly  surprised.  “And  without  me?”  he  added  in  a 
somewhat  hurt  tone. 

“It  is  a particular  fast-day,”  replied  the  student.  “I  am  fast- 
ing to-day  for  penance.” 

“What  are  you  talking  about?  Why  must  you  do  penance?” 

'Yes,  Rabbi,  I must  do  penance,  because  a while  ago, 
when  you  had  just  started  to  eat,  I transgressed  the  com- 
mandment which  says,  ‘Thou  shalt  not  covet ’ ” 



Late  in  the  night  the  student  woke  up  his  master.  The  two 
were  sleeping  side  by  side  on  benches  in  the  old  lecture-hall. 

“Rebbe,  Rebbel”  called  the  student  in  a feeble  voice. 

“What  is  the  matter?”  The  Rosh-Y eshiva  woke  with  a start 

“Just  now,  I have  been  upon  the  highest  summit.” 

“How’s  that?”  asked  the  principal,  not  yet  quite  awake. 

‘There  was  a melody,  and  it  has  been  singing  in  me.” 

The  principal  sat  up. 

“How’s  that?  How’s  that?” 

“I  don’t  know  it  myself,  Rebbe,”  answered  the  student  in 
an  almost  inaudible  voice.  “As  I could  not  find  sleep  I 
plunged  myself  into  your  lecture.  I was  anxious  at  any  cost  to 
learn  that  melody.  Unable,  however,  to  succeed,  I was  greatly 
grieved  and  began  to  weep.  Everything  in  me  was  weeping, 
all  my  members  were  weeping  before  the  Creator  of  the  Uni- 
verse. I recited  the  prayers  and  formulas  you  taught  me; 
strange  to  say,  not  with  my  lips,  but  deep  down  in  my  heart. 
And  suddenly  I was  dazzled  by  a great  light.  I closed  my 
eyes,  yet  I could  not  shut  out  the  light  around  me,  a powerful 
dazzling  light.” 

‘That’s  it,”  said  the  old  man  leaning  over. 

“And  in  the  midst  of  the  strange  light  I felt  so  strong,  so 
light-hearted.  It  seemed  to  me  as  if  I had  no  weight,  as  if  my 
body  had  lost  its  heaviness  and  that  I could  fly.” 

“That’s  right;  that’s  right.” 

“And  then  I felt  so  merry,  so  happy  and  lively.  My  face 
remained  motionless,  my  lips  never  stirred,  and  yet  I laughed. 
I laughed  so  joyously,  so  heartily,  so  frankly  and  happily.” 

‘That’s  it;  that’s  it.  That  is  right,  in  the  intensest  joy ” 

“Then  something  began  to  hum  in  me,  as  if  it  were  the  be- 
ginning of  a melody.” 

The  Rosh-Y eshiva  jumped  up  from  his  bench  and  stood  up 
by  his  pupil’s  side. 

“And  then?  And  then?” 

“Then  I heard  how  it  was  singing  in  me.” 

“And  what  did  you  feel?  What?  What?  Tell  me!” 

“I  felt  as  if  all  my  senses  were  closed  and  stopped;  and 
there  was  something  singing  in  me,  just  as  it  should  be,  with- 
out either  words  or  tunes,  only  so ” 

“How?  How?” 

“No,  I can’t  say.  At  first  I knew,  then  the  song  became ” 

“What  did  the  song  become?  What ?” 

“A  sort  of  music,  as  if  there  had  been  a violin  in  me,  or  as 



if  Yoineh,  the  musician,  was  sitting  in  my  heart  and  playing 
one  of  the  tunes  he  plays  at  the  Rebbe's  table.  But  it  sounded 
much  more  beautiful,  nobler  and  sadder,  more  spiritual;  and 
all  this  was  voiceless  and  tuneless,  mere  spirit.” 

“You  lucky  man !” 

u ^nd  now  is  gone,”  said  the  pupil,  growing  very  sad. 
“My  senses  have  again  woke  up,  and  I am  so  tired,  so  terri- 
bly tired  that  I.  . . . Rebbe!”  the  student  suddenly  cried, 
beating  his  breast.  ‘Rebbe,  recite  with  me  the  confession  of 
the  dying.  They  have  to  come  to  fetch  me;  they  require  a 
new  choir-boy  in  the  celestial  choir.  There  is  a white-winged 
angel — Rebbe — Rebbe — Shmah  Yisroel,  Shmah ” 

Everybody  in  the  town  wished  to  die  such  a death,  but  the 
Rosh-Yeshiva  found  that  it  was  not  enough. 

Another  few  fast-days,”  he  said,  “and  he  would  have  died 
quite  a different  death.  He  would  have  died  by  a Divine 

The  Rabbi  Who  Wished  to  Abolish  Death 39 

It  chanced  once  that  a great  calamity  almost  befell  the  An- 
gel of  Death.  He  came  pretty  near  losing  the  knife  with 
which  he  severs  the  life  of  man. 

When  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Levi  was  at  the  point  of  death  the 
Angel  of  Death  came  to  see  him. 

“Show  me  first  my  place  in  Paradise,”  pleaded  Rabbi 
Joshua.  “That  will  make  it  easier  for  me  to  depart  from  this 

“Come,  I will  show  you,”  answered  the  Angel  of  Death. 

And  so  they  ascended  to  the  celestial  regions. 

On  the  way,  Rabbi  Joshua  said  to  the  Angel  of  Death,  “Do 
give  me  your  knife.  I am  afraid  that  you  will  frighten  me 
with  it  while  we  are  on  the  way.” 

The  Angel  of  Death  felt  pity  for  him  and  gave  him  his 

When  they  at  last  arrived  in  Paradise  the  Angel  of  Death 
showed  Rabbi  Joshua  the  place  reserved  for  him.  A great 
yearning  then  seized  Rabbi  Joshua  and  he  sprang  forward 
within  the  Gates.  But  the  Angel  of  Death  seized  hold  of  him 
by  the  skirts  of  his  garment  and  tried  to  pull  him  back. 

Having  the  knife  in  his  possession  Rabbi  Joshua  refused  to 
budge  from  his  place. 

“I  swear  I will  not  leave  Paradise!”  he  cried. 



Thereupon,  a great  tumult  was  heard  among  the  angels.  It 
seemed  very  much  as  if  death  was  about  to  be  abolished  from 
the  world  and  people  would  be  able  to  live  forever,  like  the 
angels.  / 

The  Angel  of  Death  stood  in  a great  quandary.  “What  to 
do  now?”  he  wondered. 

The  holy  man  had  solemnly  sworn  that  he  would  not  leave 
Paradise,  and  who  could  violate  the  oath  of  such  a man?  So 
the  Angel  of  Death  went  to  complain  to  God  Himself.  And 
God  said,  “I  decree  that  Rabbi  Joshua  must  return  to  earth. 
His  time  has  not  come  yet.” 

The  Angel  of  Death  came  again  to  Rabbi  Joshua  and  de- 
manded in  a terrible  voice,  “Give  me  back  my  knife!” 

“I  will  not  give  it  back  to  you!”  cried  Rabbi  Joshua.  “I 
want  to  abolish  Death  forever!” 

Suddenly  the  Voice  of  God  was  heard  sternly  command- 
ing, “Return  the  knife,  Joshua!  Man  must  continue  to  die!” 

Asking  for  the  Impossible 40 

In  the  days  of  Rabbi  Isaac  Luria,  or  as  he  was  better  known, 
Ari  Hakodesh,  “the  Holy  Lion,”  there  lived  in  a certain  coun- 
try a king  whose  feet  rested  heavily  on  the  necks  of  the  Jews 
in  his  kingdom. 

One  day,  he  issued  a royal  proclamation  ordering  the  Jews 
to  raise  for  him  an  enormous  sum  of  money  in  a very  short 
time.  Should  they  fail  to  carry  out  his  command  fully  he 
threatened  to  drive  them  out  of  his  kingdom. 

When  the  Jews  read  the  king’s  proclamation  they  rent  their 
garments,  strewed  ashes  upon  their  heads  and  went  into 
mourning.  Fervently  they  prayed  to  God  to  intercede  for 
them  and  rescue  them  from  certain  disaster.  For  the  Jews 
were  very  poor.  Where  could  they  get  the  money  the  king 
asked  for?  In  their  extremity  they  thought  of  “the  Holy  Lion.” 
So  they  sent  two  messengers  to  him  in  Safed  where  he  lived. 

Blessed  with  fair  winds  the  ship  that  carried  the  two  mes- 
sengers arrived  safely  in  the  Land  of  Israel.  They  journeyed 
by  caravan  to  Safed  without  rest  and  reached  the  city  late 
Friday,  just  before  the  holy  Sabbath  was  ushered  in. 

Without  loss  of  time  they  called  on  the  Master  of  the 
Cabala.  They  found  him  attired  in  spotless  white  robes  and 
surrounded  by  worshipful  disciples.  His  face  shone  as  radiant- 



ly  as  the  springtime  sun  and  he  had  the  appearance  of  an 
angel  of  God. 

“What  brings  you  to  Safed?”  he  asked  the  two  messengers. 

They  answered:  “We  have  come  to  ask  for  your  intercession 
with  God  in  order  that  we  may  not  perish  from  the  earth.” 

And  they  told  him  of  the  mortal  danger  they  and  all  their 
brethren  in  the  distant  kingdom  were  in. 

When  they  had  spoken  the  Seer  replied,  “It  is  a sin  to 
desecrate  the  peace  of  the  Sabbath  with  sad  thoughts.  Remain 
with  me  until  tomorrow  night,  then  you  will  depart.  Ban- 
ish all  fear  and  be  carefree,  for  God  never  abandons  the 

When  the  following  evening  came  and  Rabbi  Isaac  Luria 
had  finished  blessing  the  departing  Sabbath-Bride,  he  turned 
to  his  disciples  and  to  the  two  messengers  and  said: 

“Take  with  you  a long  rope  and  follow  me.” 

So  they  all  did  as  he  bade  them  and  followed  him  into  the 
fields.  At  last  he  stopped  before  a deep  pit  and  commanded: 

“Lower  the  rope  into  the  bottom  of  this  pit  and  hold  fast 
to  the  end.” 

The  disciples  and  the  messengers  did  as  he  told  them. 

“Now  pull  with  all  your  might!”  he  ordered. 

Filled  with  wonder  they  pulled  on  the  rope  and  felt  a great 
weight  below.  When  they  had  drawn  the  object  to  the  surface 
they  were  startled  to  see  that  it  was  a magnificent  couch.  They 
could  hardly  believe  their  own  eyes  at  what  they  saw:  on  it  lay 
a king  fast  asleep. 

Rabbi  Isaac  went  up  to  the  sleeper  and  shook  him,  crying, 
“Are  you  the  hard-hearted  ruler  who  so  cruelly  oppresses  the 
Jews  in  his  kingdom?” 

“I  am,”  answered  the  king,  quaking  in  every  limb. 

“Get  up,  then!”  sternly  commanded  the  holy  man. 

The  king  got  out  of  bed;  his  face  was  full  of  fear.  Rabbi 
Isaac  then  handed  him  a dipper  that  had  no  bottom  and  said, 
“Empty  the  well  with  this  dipper.  I expect  you  to  be  through 
with  your  task  before  dawn.” 

When  the  king  saw  that  this  dipper  had  no  bottom  he  wailed, 
“Even  were  I to  live  a thousand  years  I wouldn’t  be  able  to 
empty  the  well  with  this  useless  dipper!” 

“Since  you  recognize  that  what  I’ve  asked  you  to  do  is  im- 
possible to  accomplish — why  then  do  you  ask  the  impossible 
of  the  poor  Jews  in  your  kingdom?” 


The  king  lowered  his  eyes  and  murmured,  “You  are 
right — I will  withdraw  my  command.  Only  spare  my  life!” 

“You  must  guarantee  your  assurance  to  me  with  your  sig- 
net-ring,” answered  Rabbi  Isaac. 

And  the  king  did  as  he  was  asked. 

The  following  morning,  when  the  king  awoke  from  his 
sleep,  he  thought  he  had  dreamt  it  all. 

“What  a frightful  dream  that  was!”  he  shuddered.  “Dreams 
are  nothing  but  lies.” 

And  he  dismissed  the  matter  from  his  mind. 

When  the  day  finally  came  for  the  Jews  to  bring  the  re- 
quired sum  of  money  the  two  messengers  came  before  the 
king.  They  showed  him  his  rescinding  order  with  his  signa- 
ture. He  recognized  his  seal  and  said,  “It  is  my  signature.” 

Then  he  gave  them  presents  and  let  them  depart  in  peace. 

Rashi  and  Godfrey  of  Bouillon 41 

In  the  days  of  the  great  scholar,  Rabbi  Solomon  ben  Isaac 
(Rashi),  there  lived  in  France  the  famous  Godfrey  de  Bouil- 
lon. He  was  a brave  man  and  a hero  in  battle,  but  he  was 
also  a destructive,  cruel  man.  The  repute  of  Rabbi  Solomon’s 
wisdom  was  spread  over  the  land  and  also  reached  the  ears  of 
Godfrey.  The  prince  tried  his  utmost  to  draw  Rabbi  Solomon 
into  his  service  but  to  no  avail;  the  scholar  refused  to  leave 
his  home. 

_ Angered  by  the  rabbi’s  stubbornness,  Godfrey,  accompa- 
nied by  his  men-at-arms,  hastened  to  the  town  where  the 
rabbi  lived.  He  came  before  the  House  of  Study  and  found 
all  the  doors  wide  open.  The  holy  books  lay  open  on  the 
rabbi’s  desk  yet  he  was  nowhere  to  be  seen. 

“Solomon,  Solomon!”  Godfrey  cried  out  in  a loud  voice. 

The  scholar  replied,  “What  do  you  want  of  me,  my  lord?” 

But,  wondrous  to  relate,  although  Godfrey  could  hear  his 
voice  he  could  not  see  him. 

“Where  are  you?”  he  asked  him. 

“I  am  right  here,”  Rabbi  Solomon  replied. 

“Why  don’t  you  reveal  yourself  in  the  flesh?” 

“I  am  afraid  of  you.” 

“Don’t  fear  me,”  Godfrey  begged  him.  “I  promise  to  do 
you  no  harm.” 

Hearing  these  words,  Rabbi  Solomon  made  himself  visible 
before  Godfrey. 



“Now  you  have  convinced  me  of  your  wisdom  about 
which  I have  heard  so  much,”  said  Godfrey.  “I  am  going  to 
tell  you  of  the  great  plans  I have  made.  My  wish  is  to  con- 
quer Jerusalem  from  the  Saracens.  I have  at  my  command 
two  hundred  large  ships  and  one  hundred  thousand  horse- 
men. There  are  also  seven  thousand  horsemen  in  Akron  who 
are  ready  to  join  my  standard.  With  these  forces  I expect  to 
crush  the  Saracens  who  are  expert  in  the  art  of  war.  There- 
fore tell  me,  what  do  you  think  of  my  outlook  for  victory 
and  don’t  be  afraid  to  speak  your  mind.” 

Rabbi  Solomon  answered,  “You  will  conquer  Jerusalem 
but  will  rule  over  it  only  three  days.  On  the  fourth  day  the 
Saracens  will  rout  you,  and  you  will  escape  with  only  three 

Hearing  this  Godfrey  of  Bouillon  was  very  angry. 

“Beware,  Jew!”  he  cried.  “Should  I return  with  four  horse- 
men I will  throw  your  carcass  to  the  dogs  and  kill  all  Jews  in 
the  kingdom.” 

In  the  end  it  happened  exactly  as  Rabbi  Solomon  foretold, 
but  with  one  important  exception:  Godfrey  of  Bouillon  re- 
turned, not  with  three  but  with  four  horsemen.  He  therefore 
gloated  over  the  prospect  of  revenging  himself  on  the  scholar. 

As  Godfrey  reached  the  town  where  Rabbi  Solomon  lived, 
a stone  fell  from  the  lintel  of  the  gate  and  killed  one  of  the 
four  horsemen  and  his  mount.  At  this  Godfrey  was  filled  with 
fear;  he  understood  now,  that  with  his  great  wisdom  Rabbi 
Solomon  had  foreseen  everything.  Therefore,  he  went  in 
search  of  him  in  order  that  he  might  do  him  homage. 

But  in  the  meantime  the  scholar  had  gone  to  join  his  fore- 
fathers and  Godfrey  grieved  after  him. 

Rabbi  Amram’s  Rhine  Journey 42 

The  teacher  Rabbi  Amram  left  his  home  town  of  Mayence 
for  Cologne.  There  he  opened  a Talmudic  college. 

As  the  years  passed  and  he  grew  old  and  infirm  he  saw 
that  he  no  longer  had  the  required  strength  to  return  to  the 
town  of  his  birth.  Therefore,  he  instructed  his  students  that, 
upon  his  death,  they  were  to  carry  his  body  to  Mayence  and 
there  bury  it  beside  the  graves  of  his  forefathers.  The  students 
remarked  that  such  a journey  was  charged  with  great  danger 
for  them. 

To  this  Rabbi  Amram  answered,  “Purify  my  body  after  I 



die.  Lay  it  in  a coffin  and  then  place  the  coffin  in  a small 
boat.  Let  the  boat  loose  and  it  will  drift  with  the  tide  up  the 
River  Rhine.  In  this  way  it  will  reach  its  right  destination.” 

The  time  came  at  last  when  the  soul  departed  from  Rabbi 
Amram  and  his  students  went  to  fulfill  their  promise.  They 
placed  his  coffin  in  a boat  and  set  it  adrift  on  the  stream. 

When  the  river-boatmen  saw  the  strange  bark  with  the  cof- 
fin they  understood  that  it  carried  a holy  man  whom  they 
were  duty-bound  to  lay  in  a grave  in  their  town.  So  they 
stretched  out  their  hands  to  pull  the  boat  in,  but,  to  their  as- 
tonishment, the  vessel  glided  backwards  out  of  their  reach.  In 
this  they  saw  the  hand  of  God  so  they  went  to  report  the  in- 
cident to  the  authorities. 

When  news  of  this  got  abroad  multitudes  came  swarming 
to  the  river  edge  to  see  the  extraordinary  sight.  Among  them 
were  also  several  Jews. 

Once  more  the  river-boatmen  tried  to  lay  their  hands  on 
the  boat,  but  again  the  tiny  craft  glided  away  from  them.  It 
floated  for  a little  distance  until  it  reached  the  spot  where  the 
Jews  stood. 

Seeing  this  the  authorities  said  to  them,  “Get  into  the  boat 
and  put  an  end  to  this  mystery.” 

The  Jews  reached  out  their  hands  and  the  boat  swiftly 
glided  towards  them.  They  climbed  into  it  and  pried  open  the 
lid  of  the  coffin.  There  they  saw  the  body  of  the  sage  and  on 
it  lay  a scroll  with  Hebrew  writing.  It  read:  “Dear  brothers 
and  friends,  members  of  the  Holy  Community  of  Mayence:  I 
come  to  you  from  Cologne  where  I departed  this  life.  I beg 
of  you — bury  me  near  where  my  forefathers  lie.” 

At  this  the  Jews  went  into  mourning.  They  drew  the  coffin 
from  the  boat  and  placed  it  beside  the  bank  of  the  Rhine.  Rut 
the  Christian  burghers  of  Mayence  wouldn’t  permit  the  coffin 
of  the  holy  man  to  remain  in  the  hands  of  the  Jews,  so  they 
drove  them  away.  They  then  tried  to  carry  away  the  dead 
man  in  order  to  give  him  proper  burial,  but  they  could  not 
lift  the  coffin.  So  they  placed  watchmen  to  guard  it  and  on 
the  very  spot  they  erected  a chapel  which  they  henceforth 
called  the  Chapel  of  Amram. 

In  vain  the  Jews  implored  the  authorities  to  return  to  them 
the  body  of  Rabbi  Amram. 

Every  night  thereafter  the  spirit  of  Rabbi  Amram  appeared 
to  his  former  students  in  Mayence  in  a dream. 

“Bury  me  where  my  forefathers  lie!”  he  begged  them. 



The  students  held  counsel  with  one  another  in  order  that 
they  might  do  their  departed  rabbi’s  urgent  bidding. 

One  dark  night  they  went  and  cut  down  the  body  of  a 
criminal  that  hung  on  a tree  outside  the  town.  They  drew 
Rabbi  Amram’s  shroud  on  him  and  laid  him  in  his  place  in 
the  coffin.  The  holy  man  they  bore  to  the  Jewish  cemetery 
and  laid  him  to  eternal  rest  according  to  the  rites  and  cus- 
toms of  the  Jews. 

The  Hidden  Saint 43 

In  the  holy  city  of  Safed  lived  one  of  the  Lamed-Vav-Tzad- 
dikim ,44  one  of  the  thirty-six  secret  saints.  He  was  very  poor 
but  he  shared  his  crust  with  those  who  were  even  poorer  than 
he.  Yet  he  wished  to  disguise  his  virtue  so  that  no  one  might 
say  he  was  good  and  cause  him  to  fall  into  the  error  of  self- 

As  the  Passover  holidays  came  near  this  meek  saint  fell 
gravely  ill  and  was  no  longer  able  to  earn  his  crust.  His  wife 
and  children  now  suffered  hunger.  There  seemed  no  chance 
at  all  that  they  would  have  the  money  to  buy  matzos  and 
wine.  And,  since  they  were  proud,  no  one  knew  of  their 
plight.  But  the  saint  consoled  his  household,  “Have  faith  in 
God — He  raises  up  the  fallen!” 

No  one  in  Safed  knew  of  the  holy  man’s  trials  except 
Rabbi  Isaac  Luria,  “The  Holy  Lion,”  the  Master  of  the  secret 
wisdom  of  the  Cabala.  He  took  off  his  white  garments  of  sanc- 
tity and  put  on  a wayfarer’s  dusty  clothes.  With  wanderer’s 
staff  in  hand  and  a knapsack  on  his  back  he  went  forth  to  aid 
the  hidden  saint. 

For  a while  he  passed  to  and  fro  before  the  hidden  saint’s 
dwelling.  Finally,  when  the  good  man  came  out,  he  saw 
standing  before  him  a dusty  traveller. 

“Sholom  aleichem!”  the  traveller  greeted  him. 

“Aleichem  sholom!"  answered  the  saint.  “Are  you  looking 
for  someone?” 

“No,  but  I’m  in  trouble,”  sighed  the  stranger.  “I  have  no 
place  to  spend  the  holy  Passover.” 

“I’ve  nothing  to  give  you,  but  you’re  welcome  to  stay  with 
me,”  answered  the  saint. 

The  traveller  was  grateful  and  rejoiced  in  his  good  fortune. 

“Here  are  a hundred  dinar  ” he  said  to  the  saint.  “Prepare 
the  Passover  feast!” 


“What  is  your  name?”  asked  the  hidden  saint  in  amaze- 

“Rabbi  Nissim  they  call  me,”  the  stranger  replied. 

On  the  first  night  of  Passover  the  saint  sat  down  to  read 
the  Seder  service  that  tells  of  the  liberation  of  the  Jews  from 
their  bondage  in  Egypt,  but  he  would  not  begin  without  the 
stranger  who  had  not  returned  yet  from  the  synagogue.  He 
waited  and  waited,  but  in  vain.  Rabbi  Nissim  seemed  to  have 
disappeared.  Suddenly,  in  a flash  of  illumination,  the  identity 
of  the  stranger  became  clear  to  him.  No  doubt  the  good  Lord 
had  sent  an  angel  from  Heaven  to  help  him  in  his  need! 

Yet,  neither  he  nor  any  one  else  knew  that  this  Rabbi  Nis- 
sim (Miracles)  was  none  other  than  The  Holy  Lion,  the  Ari 

Messiah  Stories 


There  is  no  agreement  in  Jewish  tradition  as  to  when  and 
where  the  Messiah  will  come.  One  belief  is  that  when  men  grow 
hopelessly  bad  that  will  be  the  time  to  expect  his  coming.  An- 
other belief  is  that  he  will  come  only  when  misfortune  will  rise 
up  and  sweep  over  Israel  like  the  sea  at  flood-tide.  Still  another 
view  is  that  the  son  of  David  will  come  to  that  generation  which 
will  repent  of  its  evil  ways  and  become  thoroughly  righteous. 

Once,  two  sages  of  the  Talmud,  Rabbi  Hai  the  Great  and 
Rabbi  Simeon  ben  Halafta,  were  travelling  all  night  in  the  valley 
of  Arbal.  As  the  first  rays  of  the  sun  shot  over  the  rim  of  the 
horizon  Rabbi  Hai  was  filled  with  rapture.  “Rabbi,”  he  cried  to  his 
companion,  “this  will  be  the  way  the  Jewish  Redemption  will 
come,  like  the  rising  sun,  gradually,  slowly,  until  it  will  appear  in 
the  sky  in  all  its  dazzling  radiance.” 

The  longing  for  the  Messiah’s  coming  was  the  golden  dream  of 
the  Jewish  people  through  the  ages.  The  greater  its  suffering,  the 
more  unendurable  its  persecution — -the  more  compelling  became 
its  escape  drive  to  the  mysticism  of  the  Cabala.  Where  it  could 
not  cope  with  the  problems  of  life  by  ordinary  means  its  desper- 
ation led  it  to  reach  out  to  the  supernatural,  like  day-dreaming 
children.  By  invoking  the  magical  yet  ever  elusive  powers  sup- 
posed to  reside  in  the  hidden  wisdom  of  the  Cabala,  they  hoped 
to  bring  an  end  to  their  Exile  and  to  their  suffering.  To  hasten 
the  coming  of  the  Messiah  and  the  Redemption  of  Israel  became. 



therefore,  the  single-minded  objective  of  all  cabalists,  including 
some  of  the  Eighteenth  Century  Hasidic  tzaddikim. 

The  Messiah  quest  of  the  Cabalists  is  nowhere  as  strikingly 
projected  as  in  the  legend  of  Joseph  della  Reyna.  It  is  the  Golden 
Legend  of  the  cabalists  and  is  imbued  with  a lofty  altruism.  Con- 
sidered in  relation  to  the  spirit  and  the  culture  of  the  times,  the 
cabalists,  by  and  large,  were  men  of  selfless  and  pure  intention. 
To  hasten  the  Redemption  they  were  ready  to  offer  every  personal 
sacrifice,  even  to  the  extent  of  life  itself. 

Of  all  the  legends  of  the  cabalists  that  of  Joseph  della  Reyna  is 
the  most  dramatic.  For  many  generations  it  has  stirred  the  imag- 
ination and  emotions  of  the  Jewish  folk-mind,  for  it  articulates  its 
ages-old  longing  for  the  Messiah.  The  Messianic  tradition  is  the 
most  fundamental  and  pervasive  in  Jewish  religious  thought.  It 
poignantly  reflects  the  frustration  of  the  life-force  of  a whole 
people  for  many  centuries.  To  the  discerning  reader  it  soon  be- 
comes clear  that,  behind  all  the  medieval  magical  trappings  of  the 
legend  of  Joseph  della  Reyna,  so  natural  to  a superstitious  age, 
there  shines  forth  a moving  ethical  doctrine  that  is  imbued  with  a 
compassion  and  selfless  love  for  mankind. 


Joseph  della  Reyna  Storms  Heaven 45 

Seeing  that  there  were  in  Jerusalem  so  many  pious  men  who 
sought  God  and  loved  truth.  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  came 
to  a firm  decision: 

“It  is  high  time  to  force  the  coming  of  the  Messiah!” 

He  knew  full  well  that  it  would  not  be  an  easy  thing  to  ac- 
complish. None  the  less,  he  remained  hopeful  that  where  oth- 
ers had  failed  he  would  succeed. 

Among  his  disciples  there  were  five  who  were  pure  in  heart 
and  in  intention.  They  were  cabalists  who  had  delved  deeply 
into  the  secret  truths  of  the  Zohar.  Night  and  day  they  sat 
with  Rabbi  Joseph  over  their  sacred  studies.  It  was  to  them 
that  he  revealed  all  the  hidden  wisdom  of  this  world  and  the 
next.  Together  they  would  grieve  and  lament  over  the  Exile 
of  the  Shekhina' 48  and  over  the  sorrows  of  the  Jewish  people 
in  dispersion. 

Once,  as  they  sat  studying  the  Cabala  with  deep  inner  rap- 
ture, Rabbi  Joseph  paused  and  said  to  the  five  disciples, 
“Know,  that  I have  given  much  thought  about  you  and  have 
gone  through  great  inner  searching  about  myself.  The  Lord 
has  blessed  us  with  wisdom  and  knowledge.  We  have  ac- 



quired  a greater  mastery  of  the  Cabala  than  have  all  those 
who  have  come  before  us.  To  us  have  been  revealed  all  the 
innermost  secrets  of  the  Torah.  By  its  power  we  are  capable 
of  performing  the  greatest  wonders.  For  these  reasons  I have 
come  to  the  conclusion  that  it  is  our  duty  to  use  these  excep- 
tional powers  for  great  ends.  We  are  able  to  accomplish 
something  that  will  be  sure  to  create  a tremendous  stir  on 
earth  and  in  heaven. 

“My  beloved  sons,  it  is  our  sacred  duty  to  drive  all  evil 
from  the  world,  to  hasten  the  coming  of  the  Messiah,  to 
redeem  the  Jewish  people  and  to  bring  back  the  Holy 
Shekhina  from  its  long  Exile. 

“Don’t  think  I have  arrived  at  my  decision  lightly.  I have 
concerned  myself  with  this  matter  for  a long  time  and  have 
drawn  up  my  plans  in  detail.  But  because  it  is  difficult  for 
one  individual  to  accomplish  such  a tremendous  task  I there- 
fore require  your  help.” 

The  five  disciples  answered  as  with  one  voice,  “Holy 
Rabbi!  We  are  eager  to  do  everything  necessary  in  order  to 
help  you  in  this  great  work.  We  know  that  God,  blessed  be 
His  Name,  is  with  you,  and  we  hope  that  you  will  succeed  in 
achieving  your  goal.” 

When  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  heard  this  he  rejoiced 
greatly  and  said  to  them,  “We  must  now  make  ready  for  our 
holy  task.  Go,  therefore,  and  bathe,  put  on  clean  raiment, 
and  for  three  days  and  three  nights  thereafter  you  must  keep 
your  bodies  and  souls  pure  and  holy.  After  that  you  will 
prepare  food  and  drink  to  last  a long  time.  On  the  third  day 
we  will  go  forth  into  the  wilderness.  We  cannot  return  until 
we  have  successfully  carried  out  our  mission.” 

The  disciples  then  went  about  making  their  preparations 
with  great  inner  trembling.  Their  spirits,  too,  were  filled  with 
a sacred  flame  and  longing  to  accomplish  their  task.  So  they 
bathed  and  made  themselves  clean.  They  put  on  white 
raiment  and  renounced  all  worldly  interests.  They  preserved 
their  bodies  and  their  thoughts  in  purity  and  holiness.  They 
also  prepared  ample  provisions  for  the  long  journey. 

On  the  third  day  they  came  to  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna. 
When  they  arrived  they  found  Rabbi  Joseph  in  deep  thought; 
a dazzling  radiance  streamed  from  his  face.  He  was  praying 
with  such  deep  ecstasy  that  his  soul  seemed  to  have  risen 
aloft  from  this  world  of  sin.  It  soared  upwards  into  the 
highest  regions  of  Heaven. 



When  Rabbi  Joseph  saw  his  disciples  he  greeted  them  with 
the  tenderness  of  a father. 

“Come  to  me,  my  beloved  disciples,”  he  said.  “You  have 
done  what  I have  asked  of  you.  You  are  now  worthy  of  help- 
ing me  in  my  sacred  task.  God,  blessed  be  He,  will  most  as- 
suredly show  us  the  way.  He  will  help  us  reach  our  goal  by 
the  power  of  His  Holy  Name.” 

“Amen!”  the  disciples  answered  fervently. 

Their  souls  became  intertwined  with  his  and  rose  up  from 
the  sinful  world,  winging  their  way  to  the  pure  celestial 

Rabbi  Joseph  also  had  completed  his  preparations.  Besides 
food  and  drink,  he  took  along  with  him  a writing  quill  and 

“Let  us  go!”  he  said  to  his  disciples. 

And  then  they  started  out  on  their  quest. 

At  last  they  came  to  Meron  and  prayed  at  the  grave  of 
Rabbi  Simeon  ben  Yohai,  the  teacher  of  all  cabalists,  the 
author  of  the  Zohar. 

They  spent  three  days  and  three  nights  there.  They  neither 
ate  nor  slept  but  delved  into  the  mysteries  of  the  Zohar  and 
sent  up  flaming  prayers  to  God. 

On  the  third  day,  when  dawn  began  to  break.  Rabbi 
Joseph  suddenly  ended  his  vigil  and  fell  asleep.  This  filled  his 
disciples  with  alarm.  Could  it  be  that  the  master’s  spirit  was 
blemished  with  weakness?  But  they  held  their  peace  and  did 
not  say  a word. 

As  Rabbi  Joseph  slept  he  dreamed  that  Rabbi  Simeon  ben 
Yohai  and  his  son  Eleazer  came  and  reproved  him:  “How 
rash  of  you  to  have  undertaken  such  a terrifying  task  as  this! 
Be  forewarned:  you  will  fail  miserably  in  your  attempt!  You 
will  be  beset  by  insuperable  difficulties  and  dangers.  You  can- 
not emerge  out  of  this  alive  and,  having  failed,  your  souls 
will  be  condemned  to  everlasting  purgatory.  However,  since 
you  are  resolute  in  your  decision,  let  us  caution  you  to  be 
discreet  in  your  speech  and  in  your  actions,  so  that  those  evil 
spirits  who  wish  to  do  you  harm  may  not  have  any  power 
over  you.” 

“Almighty  God,  blessed  be  His  Name,  knows  my  pure  in- 
tention,” replied  Rabbi  Joseph.  “He  knows  full  well  that  what 
I am  doing  is  not  for  my  selfish  ends  but  for  the  good  of  all 
the  Jews  and  of  all  mankind.  Therefore,  He  will  help  me 



achieve  my  goal  in  order  that  I may  sanctify  His  Name 
among  all  the  peoples  of  the  earth.” 

The  souls  of  Rabbi  Simeon  ben  Yohai  and  his  son  Eleazer 
then  gave  their  blessings  to  Rabbi  Joseph. 

“May  God  help  and  keep  you  wherever  you  may  turn!” 
they  prayed. 

Rabbi  Joseph  awoke  and  told  his  disciples  what  he  had 
dreamed.  They  then  understood  that  he  had  fallen  asleep  by 
the  Will  of  God,  and  that  it  was  not  due  to  weakness  of 

Then  they  arose  and  continued  on  their  way. 

Not  far  from  Tiberias  they  came  to  a large  forest  and  re- 
mained there  all  day.  They  tasted  neither  food  nor  drink  for 
they  wished  to  purify  their  bodies  and  spirits  from  earthly 

The  beauty  of  the  forest  enveloped  them.  Cool  green  trees 
wafted  their  fragrance  everywhere.  The  birds  sat  in  the 
branches  trilling  their  songs  of  joy  to  the  Creator.  But  Rabbi 
Joseph  and  his  disciples  neither  saw  nor  heard  them  out  of 
fear  that  sensuous  thoughts  might  snare  them  away  from 
their  sacred  mission. 

All  day  long  they  delved  into  the  profoundest  mysteries  of 
Cabala,  studied  the  sacred  formulae,  calculated  gematriot 47 
and  drew  mystic  designs  of  God’s  ten  emanations,  the  Sefirot. 

This  they  did  for  two  days  and  neither  ate  nor  drank,  all 
the  time  remaining  apart  from  the  earth  and  from  its 
pleasures.  Thirty-three  times  a day  they  purified  their  bodies 
in  the  Sea  of  Galilee  and  each  time  they  repeated  the  holy 
formulae  and  incantations. 

At  the  end  of  each  day  they  broke  their  fast.  But  they 
tasted  neither  fish  nor  flesh.  They  ate  only  bread  and  water, 
but  not  too  much  of  that,  only  enough  to  keep  alive. 

On  the  afternoon  of  the  third  day  Rabbi  Joseph  and  his 
disciples  recited  the  Mincha  prayers  with  great  fervor  and,  as 
they  stood  silently  pronouncing  the  eighteen  benedictions, 
their  thoughts  dwelled  with  utmost  concentration  on  the 
secret  mysteries  of  the  Cabala. 

Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  then  prayed  by  himself.  He  in- 
voked all  the  angels  and  seraphim  to  come  to  his  aid.  By  the 
power  of  the  Cabala  he  invoked  the  Prophet  Elijah  to  make 
his  appearance  before  him. 

“O  Elijah,”  he  exhorted.  “Come  to  me  and  teach  me  how  I 



should  behave  so  that  I may  carry  through  the  plan  I have 

No  sooner  had  he  finished  praying  than  Elijah  appeared. 

“Tell  me  what  it  is  you  wish  and  1 will  teach  it  to  you,”  he 

“Forgive  me,  Holy  Prophet,  for  troubling  you,”  Rabbi 
Joseph  replied.  “Believe  me,  it  is  not  for  my  own  glory  and 
not  for  that  of  my  ancestors  but  for  the  glory  of  God,  blessed 
be  His  Name,  of  His  people  and  of  His  Holy  Torah.  I believe 
I deserve  your  help.  Show  me  the  way  I can  triumph  over  Sa- 
tan and  his  hosts.  Show  me  how  I can  make  holiness  triumph 
over  evil  and  thus  bring  redemption  to  all  mankind.” 

Elijah  the  Prophet  grew  sad. 

“I  wish  to  warn  you,”  he  said,  “that  you  have  taken  upon 
yourself  a task  that  no  human  being  can  accomplish.  In  order 
to  vanquish  Satan  and  his  demons  you  and  your  disciples 
must  become  holier  and  purer  than  you  are.  I might  say  that 
to  triumph  over  Satan  you  will  have  to  become  like  the  very 
angels.  Your  aim,  of  course,  is  an  exalted  one  and,  should 
you  succeed,  you  will  be  the  happiest  man  on  earth  for  you 
will  have  brought  redemption  to  the  whole  world.  Neverthe- 
less, I warn  you  that  you  are  attempting  something  beyond 
your  human  strength.  Take  my  advice — abandon  your  plan!” 

Thereupon  Rabbi  Joseph  began  to  weep. 

“Dear  Prophet  of  God,”  he  pleaded.  “How  can  I give  up 
what  I have  started?  Do  not  abandon  me  now!  It  is  too  late 
for  me  to  turn  back.  I have  sworn  before  God  that  I will  not 
rest  until  I have  driven  Satan  from  the  earth  and  have 
brought  Messiah,  the  Redeemer  of  the  Jewish  people  and  of 
all  peoples.  I will  not  rest  until  I have  restored  the  Shekhina 
to  the  glory  it  possessed  when  the  Temple  still  stood  in 
Jerusalem.  For  these  ends  I am  eager  to  sacrifice  my  life. 
Know  that  I will  not  let  you  go  until  you  help  me  and  show 
me  the  right  path  to  follow  and  the  right  course  to  take.” 

As  the  Prophet  Elijah  looked  upon  Rabbi  Joseph  della 
Reyna  he  was  filled  with  a great  compassion  for  him. 

“Dry  your  tears,  dear  son,”  he  said.  “I  will  help  you  in 
whatever  way  I can  to  fulfill  your  task.  You  and  your  disciples 
must  continue  fasting  for  twenty-one  days,  nor  must  you 
touch  any  impure  thing.  When  you  break  your  fast  at  night 
eat  only  a morsel  of  bread,  just  enough  to  keep  alive.  In  addi- 
tion, you  must  bathe  twenty-one  times  in  the  Sea  of  Galilee 
so  that  you  become  pure  and  holy  like  the  angels.  And,  when 



the  twenty-one  days  are  up,  you  must  enter  into  a fast  which 
will  last  three  days  and  three  nights.  At  the  end  of  the  third 
day  you  must  recite  the  Mincha  prayers  wearing  talith  and 
tefillin.  After  that  you  must  recite  the  verse:  ‘Flaming  angels 
surround  the  Holy  One,  blessed  be  He!’  After  that  you  must 
invoke  the  Angel  Sandalfon  by  means  of  cabalistic  formulae. 
Thereupon,  he  and  his  angel  hosts  will  appear  immediately. 

“Be  prepared  with  strong  spices  for  the  coming  of  these 
angels,  so  that  they  might  revive  you  from  the  terror  into 
which  you  will  fall  when  you  perceive  the  holy  fire  and  the 
mighty  whirlwind  which  will  come  in  the  wake  of  the  Heav- 
enly Host.  Remember,  when  they  appear  you  must  fall  upon 
your  faces  and  recite  the  verse:  ‘Praised  be  His  Name  whose 
glorious  kingdom  is  forever  and  ever!’ 

“After  that  the  mighty  Angel  Sandalfon  will  reveal  himself 
to  you.  You  must  then  ask  him  what  you  should  do  in  order 
to  drive  the  spirit  of  evil  from  the  world. 

“If  you  do  as  I bid,  and  provided  Almighty  God  wills  it  so, 
then  you  will  be  able  to  bring  the  Redemption  for  all  the 

After  having  blessed  Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  disciples  the 
Prophet  Elijah  vanished. 

And  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  and  his  five  disciples  did  all 
that  the  Prophet  Elijah  had  told  them.  When  their  fasting, 
vigils,  prayers  and  austerities  were  over,  a terrifying  tumult 
arose  in  Heaven.  The  Angel  Sandalfon  with  his  host  of  sera- 
phim swept  down  upon  the  earth  amidst  a whirlwind  and 
with  a pillar  of  flame  before  them.  Seeing  them.  Rabbi 
Joseph  and  his  disciples  became  faint  with  fear  and  fell  upon 
their  faces.  But  they  smelled  the  strong  spices  and  their  ener- 
gies returned. 

Then  they  cried  out:  “Praised  be  His  Name  whose  glorious 
kingdom  is  forever  and  ever!”  Only  then  did  they  dare  to 
look  upon  the  angels  clothed  in  flame  and  splendor. 

The  Angel  Sandalfon  now  spoke  and  his  voice  sounded 
like  the  low  muttering  of  thunder:  “O  sinful  mortals!  Where 
did  you  get  the  strength  and  the  insolence  to  cause  such  a 
turmoil  in  all  the  Seven  Heavens?  How  dare  you  trouble  me 
and  the  Hosts  of  Heaven  to  descend  to  the  sinful  earth?  I bid 
you  desist  from  this  madness!” 

So  great  was  the  terror  of  Rabbi  Joseph  that  he  lost  the 
power  of  speech.  Finally  he  fortified  his  spirit  and  replied, 



“Holy  Angel  Sandalfon!  Believe  me,  I have  not  done  this  for 
my  glory  but  for  the  glory  of  the  Creator,  blessed  be  His 
Name,  for  the  glory  of  the  Holy  Torah,  for  the  glory  of  the 
grandchildren  of  Abraham,  Isaac  and  Jacob!  Forgive  me  my 
insolence,  for  I could  not  help  myself. 

“I  could  no  longer  look  on  the  suffering  of  my  people  in 
Exile.  I could  no  longer  stand  by  watching  our  enemies  tram- 
pling us  underfoot  in  the  dust.  My  only  aim  is  to  drive  away 
the  impure  demons  who  defile  the  world,  who  dim  the  holy 
flame  of  our  faith.  I wish  to  return  the  Shekhina  to  the  an- 
cient luster  it  had  when  the  Temple  still  stood  in  Jerusalem. 
Let  God  be  my  witness  that  my  intention  is  pure  and  my 
course  upright! 

“Therefore,  O Holy  Angel,  I beg  you  to  help  me!  Show  me 
tne  right  path,  teach  me  the  right  course,  so  that  I can  bring 
the  Messiah,  the  Redeemer,  down  on  earth!” 

The  Angel  Sandalfon  was  filled  with  compassion  as  he 
looked  upon  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna. 

“May  God  be  with  you  until  you  reach  your  goal!”  he 
cried.  “Rest  assured  that  all  angels  in  Heaven  are  in  agree- 
ment that  the  Messiah  should  come  and  bring  the  Redemp- 
tion for  the  Jewish  people  who  suffer  in  Exile.  Yet  I must 
warn  you  that  you  have  undertaken  a very  difficult  task,  for 
Satan  and  the  demons  have  untold  power.  Even  we,  the  an- 
gels, cannot  vanquish  them.  Only  if  God  Himself  stands  by 
you  will  you  be  able  to  achieve  your  aim.  But  how  can  you 
expect  God  to  support  you  unless  He  believes  that  the  right 
time  has  come  for  the  Messiah? 

“Again  I must  warn  you:  your  path  is  full  of  folly.  Should 
you  fail  you  might  make  matters  even  worse,  you  might  hand 
the  victory  to  Satan  and  he  will  become  more  arrogant  and 
do  greater  evil  than  hitherto  to  mankind.” 

Rabbi  Joseph’s  heart  overflowed  with  bitterness.  Alas!  Even 
the  mighty  Angel  Sandalfon  would  not  help  him! 

In  the  meantime,  the  five  disciples  lay  prostrate  upon  the 
ground,  their  faces  hidden  in  terror. 

“Rise  up — rise  up!”  cried  Rabbi  Joseph.  “Unite  with  me  in 
prayer!  Perhaps  all  together  we  will  be  able  to  soften  the 
hearts  of  the  angels  and  they  will  agree  to  help  us  in  our  great 

Once  again  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  pleaded  with  the 
Angel  Sandalfon,  “Help  me,  show  me  the  right  way!” 

Sadly  the  Angel  Sandalfon  replied,  “If  I have  come  to  you 



it  is  because  you  forced  me  by  pronouncing  the  Ineffable 
Name,  but  alas,  I cannot  help  you!  I myself  do  not  know  the 
means  by  which  you  can  triumph  over  Satan  and  the  demons. 
My  one  duty  is  to  guard  the  way  along  which  the  prayers  of 
the  righteous  mount  to  Heaven  and  to  bring  them  before  the 
Throne  of  God.  I have  no  power  over  Satan  and  do  not 
know  whether  I can  pit  my  strength  against  his. 

“However,  if  you  are  so  desperately  determined  to  achieve 
your  goal  you  must  call  upon  the  Angel  Metatron  and  his 
hosts.  They  have  been  assigned  by  God  to  prevent  Satan 
from  growing  stronger.  Yet,  I doubt  very  much  whether  you 
will  be  able  to  bring  this  great  angel  down  to  you.  He  resides 
in  the  Seventh  Heaven  right  next  to  the  Heavenly  Throne. 
Therefore,  not  every  prayer  can  penetrate  up  to  him.  Even 
should  he  hear  you,  I doubt  whether  you  and  your  disciples 
will  be  able  to  survive  the  terror  of  his  presence.  Know  that 
he  appears  as  a pillar  of  fire  and  that  his  face  is  more  daz- 
zling than  the  sun.  Therefore,  I beg  of  you:  abandon  your 
plan,  for  it  is  madness!” 

Still  Rabbi  Joseph  would  not  submit. 

“I  know,”  said  he  brokenly,  “that  I am  weak  and  insignifi- 
cant. I know  that  it  is  impudence  on  my  part  to  dare  talk 
with  angels  and  to  contradict  them.  But  I hope  that  the  Ruler 
of  the  World,  reading  my  heart,  will  not  spurn  my  prayer 
and  will  aid  me  in  the  work  that  I have  undertaken.  O Angel 
of  the  World,  help  me!  Tell  me  how  I can  bring  the  Angel 
Metatron  down  to  earth.” 

“Since  you  insist,”  replied  the  Angel  Sandalfon,  “you  and 
your  disciples  must  do  the  following:  You  must  fast  forty 
more  days  and  purify  yourself  twenty-one  times  each  day  in 
the  Sea  of  Galilee.  You  must  study  Cabala  and  say  your 
prayers  incessantly.  Both  by  day  and  by  night  must  you 
purify  your  thoughts.  You  must  eat  still  less  than  you  have 
hitherto,  and  live  on  spices  alone.  After  that  you  must  recite 
the  Ineffable  Name  formed  by  seventy-two  letters  and  call 
upon  Metatron,  the  Angel  of  this  mystic  name,  to  appear  be- 
fore you.” 

The  Angel  Sandalfon  then  gave  Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  disci- 
ples his  blessing,  “May  your  spirits  be  strong  and  survive  the 
terror  of  Metatron’s  presence!” 

Then,  followed  by  his  host  of  Angels,  he  mounted  to 
Heaven  in  a whirlwind. 



The  stubbornness  of  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  aroused  all 
the  angels  in  Heaven.  Nothing  was  spoken  of  but  his  daring 
attempt  to  bring  the  Messiah  down  to  earth.  The  Messiah 
himself  was  hopeful  that  soon  he  would  have  to  descend  on 
his  white  horse  to  the  children  of  man. 

Even  his  horse  began  to  chafe  and  paw,  eager  to  be  let  out 
of  the  Heavenly  stable.  Also,  the  Prophet  Elijah  took  out  his 
great  shofar  and  began  to  practice  on  it,  for  he  would  be  the 
one  to  announce  the  coming  of  the  Messiah  with  a mighty 

When  Satan  got  wind  of  the  news  he  trembled  at  the  dan- 
ger that  was  threatening  him.  At  the  time  when  all  the  angels 
and  seraphim  in  Heaven  were  rejoicing,  he  sat  gnashing  his 
teeth  in  the  bottom-most  regions  of  the  lowest  Gehenna.  He 
then  took  counsel  with  his  wife  Lilith  who  upbraided  him  for 
doing  nothing  while  their  very  existence  was  being 
threatened.  Thereupon,  Satan  hurried  off  to  press  his  com- 
plaints before  God. 

“The  Angels  are  playing  me  a trick!”  he  cried.  “They  wish 
to  make  an  end  of  me  before  my  time  has  come!  How,  O 
Lord,  can  Messiah  come  when  there  are  so  many  sinners 
among  the  Jews?  As  for  this  stubborn  fool,  Joseph  della 
Reyna,  give  me  permission  to  do  with  him  what  is  just.” 

But  God  denied  him  his  request,  for  the  prayers  that  Rabbi 
Joseph  and  his  disciples  had  intoned,  their  days  and  nights  of 
fasting,  their  sacred  reflection  and  austerities,  stood  around 
them  like  a fortified  wall.  Therefore,  Satan  had  no  power 
over  them. 

Yet  Satan  could  not  be  silenced.  God  told  him  that,  al- 
though his  arguments  were  just,  it  still  lay  within  God’s 
power  to  hasten  the  Redemption,  even  before  the  appointed 
day,  if  He  but  wished  it.  Moreover,  if  the  Jews  possessed 
such  a saint  as  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  they  were  indeed 
worthy  of  the  Messiah’s  quick  coming. 

“However,”  added  God,  “should  Joseph  della  Reyna  stray 
from  righteousness  by  even  the  thickness  of  a hair,  I will  give 
you  the  power  to  bring  his  plan  to  naught!” 

When  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  told  his  disciples  what  the 
Angel  Sandalfon  had  counselled  him  to  do,  they  answered 
with  one  voice,  “We  will  do  whatever  you  require  of  us!” 

They  then  left  Tiberias  and  went  up  to  a mountain 
fastness.  They  found  a cave  and  made  their  home  in  it.  Here 



they  performed  their  austerities  and  vigils  for  forty  days  and 
forty  nights,  just  as  the  Angel  Sandalfon  had  said.  Finally, 
they  became  released  from  all  the  tentacles  of  this  sinful 
world  and  reached  the  highest  degree  of  sanctity  and  virtue. 

When  the  forty  days  were  over  they  went  farther  into  the 
wilderness  and  purified  themselves  in  Lake  Kishon.  Then  they 
recited  the  Mincha  prayers  with  great  fervor.  After  that  they 
clasped  hands  and  formed  a mystic  circle.  They  prayed  that 
God  might  give  them  the  necessary  strength  to  survive  the 
terror  of  the  fiery  presence  of  the  Angel  Metatron  and  of  his 
angelic  host. 

Finally,  Rabbi  Joseph  pronounced  the  Ineffable  Name  of 
God  formed  of  seventy-two  letters. 

Thereupon,  the  earth  became  convulsed  and  trembled. 
Lightning  and  thunder  rent  the  heavens  and  a whirlwind 

Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  disciples  stood  firm,  clasping  hands 
in  the  mystic  circle.  They  smelled  strong  spices  to  fortify 
their  spirits  and  intoned  prayers. 

The  Angel  Metatron  appeared,  surrounded  by  his  host  of 
angels  and  seraphim. 

“O  sinful  man!”  cried  the  angels.  “O  puny  creature  of  flesh 
and  blood  wretched  as  a worm!  How  dare  you  storm  the 
Heavens  with  your  prayers  and  oblige  the  angels  to  come  to 

Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  students  were  filled  with  terror.  Sum- 
moning up  all  his  courage,  Rabbi  Joseph  spoke  at  last. 

“Holy  angels,  help  me!  Give  me  the  strength  to  talk  to 

The  Angel  Metatron  then  drew  near  and  touched  Rabbi 
Joseph,  whereupon  he  lost  all  fear  and  spoke.  “Believe  me,  I 
have  no  evil  intention.  All  I want  is  to  bring  the  Messiah  in 
order  to  end  the  Exile  of  the  Jewish  people.  Therefore,  teach 
me  how  to  vanquish  Satan  and  his  evil  power.” 

The  Angel  Metatron  became  stem. 

“Foolish  man!”  he  cried.  “All  your  efforts  are  in  vain! 
Know  that  Satan  is  all  powerful.  He  is  fortified  by  a great 
wall  of  the  sins  of  the  Jewish  people.  How  can  you  expect  to 
break  through  where  others  have  failed?  Only  when  God 
wills  that  the  Messiah  should  come  will  He  come.  Therefore, 
abandon  your  plan!” 

But  Rabbi  Joseph  was  stubborn. 



Almighty  God  has  helped  me  thus  far  and  I’ve  remained 
among  the  living,”  he  said.  “Therefore,  I will  not  turn  back!” 

When  the  Angel  Metatron  saw  that  Rabbi  Joseph  could  not 
be  moved  in  his  determination  he  was  filled  with  compassion 
for  him.  Hie  then  advised  him  what  to  do. 

He  revealed  to  him  all  the  mystic  formulae,  all  the  incanta- 
tions and  the  Ineffable  Name.  With  their  aid,  he  said,  Rabbi 
Joseph  would  succeed  in  capturing  Satan  and  Lilith  and  thus 
drive  all  evil  from  the  world.  With  that  accomplished,  the 
Messiah  would  surely  come! 

He  also  had  him  engrave  on  a metal  plate  the  Ineffable 
Name  and  taught  him  how  to  use  it.  He  warned  him  es- 
pecially to  guard  himself  against  the  weakness  of  pity  towards 
evil  after  he  had  made  captive  Satan  and  Lilith.  Under  no 
circumstance  was  he  to  give  them  any  food  or  any  spices  to 
smell.  If  he  did,  all  his  efforts  would  be  wasted.  He  would 
thus  only  expose  himself  to  the  revenge  of  Satan. 

When  the  Angel  Metatron  and  his  host  had  departed, 
Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  disciples  began  making  preparations  for 
their  battle  with  the  Evil  One. 

Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  and  his  five  disciples  went  up  on 
Mount  Sheir.  On  the  way  they  met  many  wild  dogs.  These, 
they  very  well  knew,  were  demons  that  Satan  had  sent  in  or- 
der to  confuse  and  frighten  them.  But  Rabbi  Joseph  pro- 
nounced an  incantation  and  they  vanished. 

As  they  continued  on  their  way  they  came  to  a snow- 
capped mountain  that  seemed  to  pierce  the  very  Heavens. 
They  then  pronounced  mystic  formulae  that  the  angels  had 
taught  them  and  the  mountain  vanished. 

On  the  third  day  they  came  to  a turbulent  sea.  Here  too 
they  recited  mystic  formulae  and  the  ocean  dried  up  before 
their  very  eyes. 

Further  on  they  found  their  way  obstructed  by  an  iron  wall 
which  reached  to  the  sky.  Behind  it  stood  Satan,  lying  in  wait 
for  them.  Rabbi  Joseph  took  a knife  on  which  was  engraved 
one  of  the  mystic  names  of  God  and  with  it  he  ripped  the 
wall  asunder. 

They  then  ascended  a towering  mountain  from  the  top  of 
which  they  heard  the  loud  barking  of  dogs.  When  they  finally 
reached  the  summit  Rabbi  Joseph  saw  a hut.  As  he  tried  to 
enter,  two  frightfully  big  dogs  sprang  at  his  throat.  Rabbi 
Joseph  recognized  them  to  be  Satan  and  Lilith,  so  he  quickly 



raised  before  them  the  metal  plate  with  the  Ineffable  Name 
engraved  upon  it.  Thereupon,  they  lost  their  evil  power  and 
slunk  away. 

The  five  disciples  then  bound  the  dogs  with  ropes  on  which 
were  tied  little  metal  amulets  engraved  with  the  mystic  names 
of  God.  Immediately,  the  dogs  were  transformed.  They  took 
on  the  appearance  of  humans  except  that  they  had  wings  and 
fiery  eyes. 

“Do  give  us  something  to  eat,”  they  whined. 

But  Rabbi  Joseph  recalled  the  Angel  Metatron’s  warning 
against  falling  prey  to  the  weakness  of  pity  towards  evil.  So 
he  gave  them  no  food. 

Rabbi  Joseph  and  his  disciples  were  now  filled  with  in- 
describable bliss.  At  last,  at  last,  they  had  succeeded  in  cap- 
turing Satan  and  Lilith!  Now  they  would  be  able  to  bring 
Messiah  down  to  earth! 

“Let  us  hurry!”  impatiently  cried  Rabbi  Joseph  della 
Reyna  to  his  disciples.  “We  are  already  nearing  our  goal! 
Soon  the  Gates  of  Heaven  will  open  wide  for  us  and  the 
Holy  Messiah  will  come  forth  to  welcome  us!” 

All  this  time  Satan  and  Lilith  were  moaning  in  heartbreak- 
ing voices,  “Help  us!  Give  us  something  to  eat!  We’re  dying 
of  hunger!” 

Still  Rabbi  Joseph  della  Reyna  hardened  his  heart  against 

When  they  saw  that  they  could  not  swerve  him  Satan  and 
Lilith  asked  wheedlingly,  “At  least  give  us  a smell  of  your 
spices  or  we  perish!” 

Now  Rabbi  Joseph  was  a compassionate  man.  He  could 
not  endure  the  sight  of  suffering  in  man  or  beast.  Having  tri- 
umphed over  Satan  and  Lilith  he  thought  he  could  now  safely 
show  a small  measure  of  magnanimity  toward  them.  He 
therefore  gave  them  some  of  the  strong  spices  to  smell. 

Immediately,  tongues  of  searing  flame  shot  from  their  nos- 
trils. All  their  former  strength  returned  to  them.  They  tore 
away  their  bonds  and  summoned  to  their  aid  hosts  of  shriek- 
ing demons  and  devils. 

Two  of  the  disciples  instantly  died  of  terror.  Two  of  them 
went  out  of  their  minds  and  wandered  away.  Only  Rabbi 
Joseph  and  one  disciple  remained. 

A terrible  wailing  was  now  heard  in  Heaven  and  the  angels 
went  into  mourning.  The  Messiah  wept  and  led  his  white 
horse  back  into  its  Heavenly  stall.  Also  the  Prophet  Elijah 



grieved  and  hid  the  great  shofar  of  the  Redemption.  Then  the 
voice  of  the  Almighty  sounded: 

“Pay  heed,  O Joseph  della  Reyna!  No  human  has  the 
power  to  end  the  Exile!  I alone,  God,  will  hasten  the  Re- 
demption of  the  Jewish  people  when  the  right  time  comes!” 

The  Messiah  Came  to  Town 

Periodically  Rabbi  Elijah,  the  Vilna  Gaon,  wished  to  do 
penance.  So  he  went  into  “exile,”  wandered  forth  on  foot 
disguised  as  a poor  man.  He  carried  a stick  and  wore  the  tra- 
ditional beggar’s  sack  so  that  no  one  knew  who  he  was. 

Once,  when  his  period  of  “exile”  was  completed,  Rabbi 
Elijah  turned  his  face  toward  Vilna  again.  Footsore  and 
weary  he  trudged  the  road  back.  At  last  a peasant,  who  was 
passing  by  in  his  wagon,  gave  him  a lift  to  town.  The  peasant 
was  slightly  drunk  and  drowsy. 

“Here,  Jew,  drive!”  he  said. 

Rabbi  Elijah  took  the  reins  and  drove  into  Vilna  while  the 
peasant  lay  down  to  sleep  in  the  back  of  the  wagon. 

As  he  drove  through  the  streets  the  Jews  recognized  him. 
Everyone  was  filled  with  wonder,  for  they  had  never  seen  the 
likes  of  it  since  the  day  they  were  bom.  There,  in  the  driver’s 
seat  and  dressed  in  tatters  like  the  commonest  beggar,  sat  the 
“Crown  of  Israel,”  the  greatest  Jew  on  earth! 

One  Jew  ran  into  the  synagogue. 

“The  Messiah  is  coming!  The  Messiah  is  coming!”  he  cried 

The  people  excitedly  ran  out  of  the  synagogues,  out  of 
their  shops  and  houses,  and  into  the  street  in  order  to  see  the 
wonder  of  wonders. 

“Where  is  the  Messiah?”  they  asked  the  man. 

“See  for  yourself!”  he  cried.  “There’s  the  Vilna  Gaon!  If 
the  Vilna  Gaon  in  beggar’s  rags  is  driving  a wagon,  who  is 
worthy  enough  to  be  his  passenger?  It  can  be  none  other  than 
the  Messiah!” 

Why  the  Messiah  Doesn’t  Come 48 

Once  there  was  a poor  man  who,  may  God  spare  us  all  a 
like  fate,  did  not  have  a groschen  to  his  soul.  Nevertheless,  he 
sat  night  and  day  studying  the  Torah  with  pure  intention,  as 
God  has  bidden. 

One  Friday  morning,  when  his  wife  discovered  that  they 



did  not  have  the  wherewithal  to  buy  the  necessities  for  cele- 
brating the  Holy  Sabbath,  she  drove  him  out  of  the  house. 

“Go  to  the  marketplace!”  she  cried  bitterly.  “Look 
around — maybe  you  can  earn  a few  kopeks  so  that  the  chil- 
dren and  I will  not  have  to  starve  on  God’s  holy  day!” 

Lost  in  gloomy  thoughts  the  poor  man  made  his  way  to  the 

“Alas!”  he  mused,  “what  a sad  fate  is  mine!  Instead  of  de- 
voting my  time  to  the  study  of  the  Torah  I must  now  worry 
about  groschen  and  kopeks!” 

As  he  walked  with  downcast  eyes  he  suddenly  heard  a 
voice  near  him  say,  "Sholom  aleichem!” 

“Aleichem  sholomP’  answered  he.  And,  looking  up,  he  saw 
an  old  man  with  a long  gray  beard  and  a wonderfully  holy 

“Who  are  you?”  asked  the  poor  man,  overawed. 

“I’m  the  Messiah!”  answered  the  old  man.  “I  see  you  are 
sad.  Confide  your  trouble  to  me!” 

And  the  poor  man  told  him  of  his  great  need  and  of  his 
grief  in  being  diverted  by  base  cares  from  his  study  of  the 

“Cease  your  lamentation!”  said  Messiah.  “Let  me  give  you 
this  sack — it’s  a marvellous  little  sack!  Whatever  you  desire 
the  sack  will  give  you.  All  you  have  to  do  is  to  put  your  hand 
into  it  and  draw  forth  whatever  your  heart  desires.  The  little 
sack  has  also  another  virtue.  Should  anyone  wish  to  hurt 
you — all  you  have  to  do  is  to  call  out:  ‘Swallow  him,  little 
sack!’  And,  believe  me,  it  will  do  exactly  as  you  say.” 

Overjoyed,  the  poor  man  took  the  little  sack,  thanked 
Messiah  in  a heartfelt  way,  and  returned  home  to  his  un- 
happy wife  and  children. 

From  that  day  on  the  wheel  of  fortune  turned  for  him.  He 
thrived  and  he  prospered  and  was  wanting  for  nothing  of  all 
the  goods  of  the  earth.  He  lived  in  honor  and  tranquility.  He 
saw  his  children  and  his  children’s  children  grow  up  and 
marry  happily,  and  sorrow  shunned  his  threshold. 

Unfortunately,  like  most  men  who  grow  rich,  he  forgot  the 
manner  in  which  his  prosperity  came  to  him,  forgot  to  do 
good  with  it,  to  serve  his  fellowmen,  to  feed  the  poor  and 
clothe  the  orphans.  He  even  gave  up  his  study  of  the  Torah. 

As  he  lay  dying,  he  called  his  heirs  to  his  bedside  and  said 
to  them,  “Give  me  my  magic  little  sack.  It  will  save  me  from 
the  Angel  of  Death.” 



His  heirs  did  as  he  had  asked  them. 

When  the  Angel  of  Death  rose  up  before  him,  he  asked, 
“What  is  your  name?” 

“I  will  not  tell  you!”  the  dying  man  cried.  “Leave  me  in 

But  the  Angel  of  Death  would  not  leave  him.  Again  and 
again  he  repeated,  “What  is  your  name?” 

When  the  dying  man  saw  that  he  could  not  resist  him  any 
longer,  he  picked  up  his  little  sack  and  said,  “Little  sack,  little 
sack!  Swallow  the  Angel  of  Death!” 

Immediately,  the  Angel  of  Death  disappeared  into  the  little 

In  the  meantime,  on  the  Throne  of  Mercy  sat  the  Celestial 
Judge  impatiently  waiting  for  the  Angel  of  Death  to  arrive 
with  his  daily  catch  of  souls. 

Angered  by  his  tardiness,  God  sent  the  angels  Gabriel  and 
Michael  down  to  earth. 

“Go,”  said  He,  “and  find  out  what’s  keeping  the  Angel  of 

When  the  angels  came  to  the  man  they  asked  him,  “Where 
is  the  Angel  of  Death?” 

He  did  not  answer.  Again  and  again  they  asked  him  the 
question.  When  he  saw  that  he  could  not  stand  up  against 
them  any  longer  he  picked  up  his  little  sack  and  cried,  “Little 
sack,  little  sack!  Swallow  the  angel  Michael!” 

And  lo  and  behold!  Michael  disappeared  into  the  little 

When  the  angel  Gabriel  saw  this  he  fled  and  returned  to 

As  Gabriel  reported  to  God  what  had  happened  to  him  the 
Messiah  suddenly  recalled  how  he  had  given  the  little  magic 
sack  to  a poor  man  he  had  once  met. 

“Lord,”  said  the  Messiah  to  God,  “give  me  leave  to  go 
down  and  find  this  man.” 

So  the  Messiah  descended  to  earth  and  went  in  search  of 
the  man.  When  he  found  him  he  asked  him  sternly,  “What  is 
the  meaning  of  your  conduct?  Explain  yourself!” 

“You  too!”  cried  the  man  angrily,  not  recognizing  the 
Messiah.  How  many  more  of  you  will  come  down  to  brow- 
beat me?” 

“Why,  don’t  you  know  who  I am?”  began  the  Messiah. 

But  before  even  he  could  finish  what  he  had  begun  to  say. 


the  man  picked  up  his  magic  little  sack  and  cried,  “Little 
sack,  little  sack!  Swallow  this  one  too!” 

And  the  Messiah  also  disappeared  into  the  little  sack. 

And  now,  dear  friends,  do  you  want  to  know  why  the 
Messiah  doesn’t  come? 

Skeptics  and  Scoffers 


The  awed  belief  in  the  supernatural  powers  of  the  cabalists  and 
in  the  wonder-working  feats  of  the  Hasidic  Tzaddikim  was  far 
from  being  unanimous  among  the  Jewish  masses.  These  mystics 
always  found  a determined  and  powerful  opposition  arrayed 
against  them  in  the  Talmudic  rationalists.  The  Hasidim  especially 
had  to  contend  with  a dangerous  enemy — one  that  fought  with 
the  devastating  weapon  of  ridicule.  The  opponents  of  the  Hasidim 
were  known  as  Misnagdim.  They  were  a gay  set  of  rogues  who 
created  an  entire  humorous  literature  with  their  sly,  tongue-in- 
the-cheek  scoffing  against  the  wonder-working  rabbis,  and  most 
of  all  against  their  gullible,  worshipful  disciples.  These  quips  and 
jokes  received  wide  currency  among  the  people  and  added  a great 
deal  to  the  merriment  of  Jewish  community  life  which  stood  so 
badly  in  need  of  diversion.  And  if  any  proof  is  needed  of  the  ex- 
traordinary capacity  Jews  have  for  telling  jokes  at  their  own  ex- 
pense it  is  furnished  by  the  novel  fact  that  these  anti -Hasidic 
jokes  were  almost  as  popular  among  the  Hasidim  themselves  as 
among  the  Misnagdim.  Of  course,  the  Hasidim  found  a con- 
venient way  of  avoiding  embarrassment.  They  always  assumed 
that  the  scoffing  was  being  directed  against  fanatics,  to  which 
category  of  Hasidim  they  themselves,  of  course,  did  not  belong! 


Conclusive  Proof 

A wonder-working  rabbi,  accompanied  by  his  disciples, 
once  went  on  a journey.  Late  at  night  he  came  to  a wayside 
inn.  He  knocked  on  the  door  and  asked  to  be  let  in,  but  the 
innkeeper  refused  to  get  out  of  bed  as  it  was  a.  cold  night. 
Full  of  holy  wrath,  the  rabbi  cried,  “Wicked  fellow!  I hereby 
decree  that  your  inn  shall  burn  down  tomorrow!” 

Frightened  out  of  his  wits,  the  innkeeper  got  out  of  bed 
and  let  the  rabbi  and  his  disciples  in.  He  treated  them  with 



the  utmost  hospitality  and  set  a feast  before  them.  Mollified 
by  the  innkeeper’s  eagerness  to  please,  the  rabbi  cried,  “I  now 
decree  that  your  house  shall  not  bum  down  tomorrow!” 

And,  miracles  and  wonders!  It  happened  exactly  as  the 
rabbi  said!  The  rabbi’s  disciples  themselves  witnessed  this  mira- 
cle. They  saw  with  their  own  eyes  that  the  inn  did  not  bum 
down  the  next  day! 

The  Right  Kind  of  Judge 

A villager  once  came  to  see  the  rabbi  in  a big  town  and 
said  to  him,  “Rabbi,  I come  from  a nearby  village.  I want  to 
bring  a lawsuit  against  God.  My  reason  for  it  is  this.  I had  a 
wife  and,  in  addition,  ten  thousand  rubles.  What  did  God  do? 
First  he  took  away  the  ten  thousand  rubles  and,  afterwards, 
my  wife  too.  I ask  you:  what  would  it  have  mattered  to  God 
if  He  had  done  the  reverse?  Had  He  taken  away  my  wife  first 
I would  have  remained  a widower  with  ten  thousand  rubles. 
In  that  case  it  would  have  been  easy  for  me  to  have  married 
a woman  with  a ten  thousand  ruble  dowry.  After  that,  had 
God  wanted  to  take  from  me  the  ten  thousand  rubles,  I still 
would  have  had  left  a wife  and  ten  thousand  rubles.” 

“Tell  me,  my  friend,”  asked  the  rabbi  a bit  puzzled  at  all 
this,  “why  did  you  come  to  me  with  your  suit  and  not  to  the 
rabbi  in  your  village?” 

“I’ll  be  perfectly  frank  with  you,”  replied  the  villager.  “I 
couldn’t  trust  such  a matter  to  our  rabbi  because  I know 
what  a God-fearing  man  he  is  and  he  would  give  Him  the  de- 
cision. On  the  other  hand,  I know  you  have  no  fear  of  God 
and  so,  at  least  I’ll  have  half  a chance  with  you.” 

Leave  It  to  the  Rabbi 

A Jewish  innkeeper,  who  held  the  concession  from  a Jew- 
hating  Polish  nobleman,  was  in  great  despair.  His  landlord 
treated  him  with  savage  cruelty.  Whenever  he  couldn’t  make 
his  annual  payment  he  even  beat  him  and  drove  his  wife  and 
children  into  the  wintry  night.  At  his  wit’s  end,  he  decided  to 
ride  to  town  to  see  the  rabbi  and  get  his  counsel. 

“Advise  me,  Rabbi,”  he  begged  him.  “Save  my  life!  I no 
longer  know  what  to  do.  That  Haman  of  a landlord  is  fast 
driving  me  into  my  grave.  I can  see  only  one  solution  to  my 
trouble,  and  one  only:  that  by  your  wonder-working  powers 
you  bring  about  his  death.” 



“Ah!  That’s  a very  difficult  thing  to  do,  my  son.”  the  rabbi 
replied  discouragingly.  “Besides,  you  just  can’t  go  and  kill  a 
man  as  easily  as  all  that!  After  all,  aren’t  Jews  called  ‘Sons  of 
the  Compassionate’?  Even  your  landlord  is  a human  being, 
just  like  you  and  me.” 

He  a human  being?”  snorted  the  petitioner,  with  indigna- 
tion. He’s  a torturer,  Rabbi,  a wild  beast!  He’d  as  soon  kill 
me  as  take  a pinch  of  snuff.” 

The  rabbi  agreed  with  a sigh  and  retired  into  his  private 
study  to  hold  communion  with  God.  When  he  emerged,  he 
said  to  the  innkeeper,  “Go  home  now!  Your  persecutor  is 

Rejoicing  greatly  over  this  miraculous  piece  of  news,  the 
innkeeper  started  for  home.  But  on  the  way  he  was  suddenly 
filled  with  misgiving.  “Was  it  wise  of  me  to  ask  the  rabbi  to 
bring  about  the  death  of  my  landlord?”  he  asked  himself. 

What  will  I have  gained  by  it?  When  his  son  and  heir,  who 
is  in  Paris  now,  hears  of  his  father’s  death  he  will  hurry  home 
to  take  over  the  estate.  In  that  case,  it  will  be  worse  for  me 
for  he  is  even  more  wicked  than  his  father.  Then  it  will 
surely  be  the  end  of  me!” 

So  he  turned  his  cart  around  and,  whipping  up  his  horse, 
returned  to  the  rabbi. 

“Rabbi!”  he  cried.  “I  shouldn’t  have  asked  you  to  make  the 
landlord  die.  I’ve  done  wrong — a terrible  wrong!  If  he’s  as 
wicked  as  Haman,  his  son  is  like  the  Angel  of  Death.  Now 
I’m  sorry  for  the  whole  business!” 

The  rabbi  thew  up  his  hands  in  exasperation. 

“What  do  you  want  me  to  do  now — resurrect  him?”  he 
asked,  bitingly.  Then  he  relented  and  said,  “Believe  me,  it’s  a 
very  difficult  matter,  but  I’ll  see  what  I can  do.” 

The  rabbi  again  went  into  his  private  study  to  commune 
with  God.  When  he  came  out  he  said  cheerfully  to  the  inn- 
keeper, “You  may  go  home  now — your  landlord  is  alive 

Murmuring  a prayer  of  thanksgiving,  the  innkeeper  climbed 
into  his  cart  and  drove  him  home.  When  he  got  there,  what 
was  his  delight  to  see  his  landlord  walking  about  hale  and 
hearty  and  real  as  life,  just  as  if  nothing  at  all  had  happened 
to  him! 




A disciple  came  to  his  rabbi.  His  wife  was  gravely  ill  at 
home  and  therefore  he  begged  the  holy  man  to  pray  for  her. 
“Go  home  and  stop  worrying,”  the  rabbi  told  him. 

Several  days  later  the  disciple  came  again,  lamenting  tear- 
fully, “Oh  Rabbi,  my  wife  is  dead!” 

“That  cannot  be,”  insisted  the  rabbi  heatedly.  “I  myself 
tore  the  slaughterer’s  knife  from  the  hand  of  the  Angel  of 

“I  don’t  know  about  that,  Rabbi,  but  my  wife  is  dead!” 
wailed  the  bereaved  husband. 

“In  that  case,”  sighed  the  rabbi,  “nothing  else  could  have 
happened  but  that  the  Angel  of  Death  strangled  her  with  his 
bare  hands!” 

Realistic  Miracles 

A disciple  was  bragging  about  his  wonder-working  rabbi: 

“When  my  rabbi  climbs  on  a bench  he  can  see  with  his 
luminous  eyes  to  the  very  ends  of  the  earth!” 

“What’s  the  idea  of  your  rabbi  having  to  get  on  a bench  if 
he  can  see  that  far?”  he  was  asked. 

“My  rabbi,  I’d  like  you  to  know,  wants  his  miracles  to  look 
realistic,”  answered  the  disciple  proudly. 

A Believer's  Truth 

A disciple  of  a wonder-working  rabbi  once  was  boasting  of 
the  supernatural  feats  of  his  master. 

“Every  night,”  he  stated,  “my  rabbi  transforms  himself  into 
the  Prophet  Elijah!” 

“How  do  you  know  that?”  asked  a skeptic. 

“Why  the  rabbi  himself  told  it  to  me!” 

“The  rabbi  could  have  told  you  a lie!” 

“How  dare  you  say  such  a thing  about  my  rabbi!”  raged 
the  disciple.  “Do  you  think  for  one  moment  that  a man  who 
can  transform  himself  into  the  Prophet  Elijah  every  night  has 
the  need  to  tell  a lie?” 


Two  disciples  were  bragging  about  the  relative  merits  of  their 
wonder-working  rabbis.  One  said,  “Once  my  rabbi  was  trav- 



elling  on  the  road  when  suddenly  the  sky  became  overcast.  It 
began  to  thunder  and  to  lighten  and  a heavy  rain  fell — a real 
deluge.  What  does  my  rabbi  do?  He  lifts  up  his  eyes  to 
Heaven,  spreads  out  his  hands  in  prayer  and  immediately  a 
miracle  happens!  To  the  right,  darkness  and  a downpour — to 
the  left,  darkness  and  a downpour.  But  in  the  middle,  a clear 
sky  and  the  sun  shining!” 

“Call  that  a miracle?”  sneered  the  other  disciple.  “Let  me 
tell  you  what  happened  to  my  rabbi. 

“Once  he  was  riding  in  a wagon  to  a nearby  village.  It  was 
on  a Friday.  He  remained  longer  there  than  he  had  intended 
and,  on  his  way  back,  he  found  that  night  was  falling.  What 
was  to  be  done?  He  couldn’t  very  well  spend  the  Sabbath  in 
the  middle  of  the  field,  could  he?  So  he  lifted  his  eyes  to 
Heaven,  spread  out  his  hands  to  right  and  left,  and  immedi- 
ately a miracle  took  place!  To  the  right  of  him  stretched  the 
Sabbath,  to  the  left  of  him  stretched  the  Sabbath — but  in  the 
middle  was  Friday!” 

The  Farseeing  Rabbi 

The  rabbi  of  Odessa  was  deep  in  prayer  one  day  when,  inter- 
rupting himself  with  a wail,  he  announced  that  the  rabbi  of 
Warsaw  had  just  died.  Accordingly,  the  entire  Odessa  congre- 
gation went  into  mourning  in  his  honor. 

A few  days  later,  some  lews  from  Warsaw  arrived  in 
Odessa.  Asked  for  details  of  the  sad  event,  they  declared  their 
rabbi  was  in  the  best  of  health. 

“What  a spectacle  your  rabbi  made  of  himself,”'  one  of 
them  said,  “seeing  our  rabbi  die  in  Warsaw,  when  as  a matter 
of  fact  our  rabbi  was — and  still  is — living!” 

“What  of  it?”  answered  the  undaunted  disciple  of  Odessa. 
“Isn’t  it  marvelous  enough  that  our  rabbi  can  see  all  the  way 
from  Odessa  to  Warsaw?” 


The  holy  rabbi  died.  All  his  disciples  who  loved  him  wished 
to  obtain  a memento  of  him.  One  of  the  disciples  had  fixed 
his  heart  upon  the  rabbi’s  long-stem  pipe  with  the  beautifully 
painted  porcelain  bowl. 

“It  will  cost  you  a hundred  rubles,”  the  rabbi’s  wife  told 

“It’s  a lot  of  money  for  me,”  said  the  disciple  with  some 



hesitation.  “However,  let  me  try  it  out  and  we’ll  see  about  it 

So  the  rabbi’s  wife  gave  him  the  pipe  and  he  lit  it. 

And  what  do  you  suppose  happened? 

No  sooner  had  he  taken  the  first  draw  when  it  seemed  to 
him  as  if  all  the  seven  gates  of  Heaven  opened  wide  for  him 
and  he  saw  what  even  the  prophet  Ezekiel  hadn’t  seen  there! 

With  trembling  hands  he  counted  out  the  hundred  rubles 
and,  overjoyed,  hastened  home  with  his  purchase. 

No  sooner  did  he  arrive  home  than  he  eagerly  lit  the  pipe 
once  more.  He  gave  one  mighty  draw. 

And  what  do  you  suppose  happened? 



Yes,  nothing! 

Pell-mell  the  disciple  ran  off  with  his  pipe  to  see  the  new 
rabbi.  He  blurted  out  to  him  the  whole  story  in  a breathless 

“My  son,”  said  the  new  rabbi,  smiling  into  his  beard,  “the 
whole  matter  is  as  clear  as  day.  When  the  pipe  still  belonged 
to  the  rabbi,  and  you  smoked  it,  you  saw  just  what  the  rabbi 
saw  when  he  smoked  it.  But,  no  sooner  did  it  become  yours 
when  it  turned  into  just  a plain,  everyday  pipe,  and  you  saw 
what  you  always  see!” 

The  Gulden  Test 

An  atheist  once  came  to  see  a wonder-working  rabbi. 

“Sholom  aleichem.  Rabbi,”  said  the  atheist. 

"Aleichem  sholom,”  answered  the  rabbi. 

The  atheist  took  a gulden  and  handed  it  to  him.  The  rabbi 
pocketed  it  without  a word. 

“No  doubt  you’ve  come  to  see  me  about  something,”  he 
said.  “Maybe  your  wife  is  childless  and  you  want  me  to  pray 
for  her?” 

“No,  Rabbi,  I’m  not  married,”  replied  the  atheist. 

Thereupon,  he  gave  the  rabbi  another  gulden.  Again  the 
rabbi  pocketed  the  gulden  without  a word. 

“But  there  must  be  something  you  wish  to  ask  me,”  he 
said.  “Possibly  you’ve  committed  a sin  and  you’d  like  me  to 
intercede  with  God  for  you.” 

“No,  Rabbi,  I don’t  know  of  any  sin  I’ve  committed,”  re- 
plied the  atheist. 


And  again  he  gave  the  rabbi  a gulden  and  again  the  rabbi 
pocketed  it  without  a word. 

“Maybe  business  is  bad  and  you  want  me  to  bless  you?” 
asked  the  rabbi,  hopefully. 

“No,  Rabbi,  this  has  been  a prosperous  year  for  me,”  re- 
plied the  atheist. 

Once  more  the  atheist  gave  him  a gulden. 

“What  do  you  want  of  me,  anyway?”  asked  the  rabbi,  a 
little  perplexed. 

“Nothing,  just  nothing,”  replied  the  atheist.  “I  merely 
wished  to  see  how  long  a man  can  go  on  taking  money  for 

A Fool  Asks  Too  Many  Questions 

On  the  fast  day  of  Tisha  Ba’Ab  a sick  Jew  went  to  see  the 
rabbi  in  order  to  get  his  permission  to  eat,  for  he  was  afraid 
his  health  would  suffer  if  he  didn’t.  But,  as  he  entered  the 
rabbi’s  house,  he  was  struck  dumb  with  amazement  when  he 
saw  the  rabbi  enjoying  a hearty  lunch. 

“Rabbi,”  he  faltered,  not  at  all  sure  of  himself,  “I’m  a sick 
man — do  I have  to  fast  today?” 

“What  a question!”  replied  the  rabbi,  his  mouth  full  of 
roast  duck.  “Of  course  you  do!” 

For  a moment  the  petitioner  stood  in  bewilderment,  not 
knowing  whether  he  was  coming  or  going.  Finally,  he  scraped 
up  sufficient  courage  to  ask,  “Pardon  my  impertinence. 
Rabbi,  but  how  can  you  order  me  to  fast  when  you  yourself 
are  eating?” 

“I  wasn’t  fool  enough  to  ask  the  rabbi,”  replied  the  rabbi 
with  a grin  and  went  on  with  his  lunch. 



The  Human  Comedy 


There  is  a saying  in  the  Talmud:  “You  may  know  a man  by 
three  things — by  his  wine-cup,  by  his  anger,  and  by  his  purse. 
Some  say:  also  by  his  laughter.”  The  folk-philosophy  of  Jewish 
humor  is  revealingly  expressed  in  many  sayings.  For  instance, 
there  is  the  optimistic  counsel  in  Yiddish:  “Does  your  heart  ache? 
Laugh  it  off!”  Among  the  sectarian  Hasidim,  for  whom  laughter 
and  other  modes  of  conviviality  were  considered  forms  of  prayer, 
the  telling  of  jokes  was  held  in  great  esteem.  “The  Rebbe  has  or- 
dered everybody  to  be  merry!”  is  a well-known  Hasidic  saying. 
The  same  idea  underlies  the  following  anecdote: 

The  famous  Rabbi  Zevi  Elimelech  of  Dinov  had  a son,  Dovidl, 
who  was  himself  a Hasidic  rabbi  and  had  many  ardent  disciples. 
On  every  Sabbath  and  also  on  Holy  Days,  Rabbi  Dovidl  refrained 
from  the  time-honored  custom  of  expounding  the  Torah  as  he  sat 
in  the  midst  of  his  disciples.  Instead,  he  diverted  them  with  merry 
tales  and  jokes,  and  everybody,  even  the  graybeards,  would  laugh 

Once,  Rabbi  Yichezkel  Halberstam  was  paying  him  a visit,  and 
he  was  amazed  at  Rabbi  Dovidl’s  odd  carryings-on. 

“Who  ever  heard,”  he  began  indignantly,  “that  a tzaddik  and 
his  disciples  should  behave  in  such  an  outrageous  way?  A fine 
thing  indeed  to  celebrate  God’s  Sabbath  with  nonsense,  funny  sto- 
ries and  jests!  Really,  Rabbi  Dovidl,  you  ought  to  feel  ashamed 
of  yourself!  Come  now — expound  a bit  of  Torah  for  us!” 

Torah!  exclaimed  Rabbi  Dovidl.  “And  what  do  you  suppose 
I’ve  been  expounding  all  this  time?  Believe  me,  Rabbi,  there’s 
God’s  holy  truth  in  all  stories  and  jests!” 

The  average  Jew  cannot  carry  on  a conversation  without  trying 
to  illuminate  it  with  a story  or  joke.  In  fact,  the  need  for  this  is 
sometimes  too  compulsive.  It  has  even  given  rise  to  a Jewish  wit- 
ticism in  paraphrase  of  its  Talmudic  original:  “Who  is  a hero? 
He  who  suppresses  the  urge  to  tell  a joke.” 

. Jfuws  are  skillful  at  joke-making  because  they  are  also  virtuosi 
art  of.  pathos.  They  have  been  tempered  by  necessity  to 
nif  passionately  with  gaiety  as  well  as  with  sober  earnest- 
f ' T1"8  dua!  opacity  for  weeping  and  laughing  at  the  same 

hTou/hZ  W»ICK  T,' the  Yiddish  exPression»  “laughter 
ough  tears,  has  had  its  origin  in  the  chaos  of  life.  The  har- 
mony of  light  and  shadow  is  always  at  work;  the  same  experi- 




ences  which  have  made  the  Jew  realistic  and  thoughtful  have  also 
exposed  to  his  ironic  eye  the  foolishness  and  incongruities  of  the 
Human  Comedy.  It  is  one  of  the  wholesome  defense  mechanisms 
by  which  he  is  enabled  to  keep  a balanced  outlook. 

Like  every  thoughtful  tragedian,  from  Dionysus  down,  he  has 
taught  himself  how  to  laugh.  Perhaps  most  important  of  all,  he 
has  learned  how  to  laugh  at  himself.  This  has  made  it  easier  for 
him  to  take  himself  and  his  troubles  less  seriously  and  thus  help 
remove  the  sting  from  an  unjust  fate.  Gentiles  too  have  recog- 
nized this  talent  of  sophisticated  irony  in  the  Jew.  In  discussing 
the  humor  of  Max  Beerbohm,  James  Gibbons  Huneker  remarked: 
“.  . . he  has  that  delightful  ironic  touch  which  is  Hebraic.  It 
abounds  in  Hebraic  literature.” 

Jewish  jokes  and  witticisms,  as  those  in  this  compilation  will 
bear  out,  are  not  just  “fun-loving”  and  laugh-provoking;  they  are 
frequently  bitten  with  the  acid  of  satire,  and  are  permeated  by  a 
philosophy  of  gentle  ruefulness  which  is  a commentary  on  the 
limitations  inherent  in  life  and  mankind.  We  find  these  same  ele- 
ments in  Don  Quixote  and  Sancho  Panza  and  in  Sholom  Alei- 
chem’s  droll  but  tragic  Tevye  and  Menachem  Mendel. 

The  psychologic  trait  of  self-irony  in  Jews,  for  which  Heine 
was  celebrated,  led  Freud  to  remark  in  Wit  and  Its  Relation  to 
the  Unconscious:  “This  determination  of  self-criticism  may  make 
clear  why  it  is  that  a number  of  the  most  excellent  jokes  . . . 
should  have  sprung  into  existence  from  the  soil  of  Jewish  na- 
tional life.  There  are  stories  which  were  invented  by  Jews  them- 
selves and  which  are  directed  by  Jewish  peculiarities  ...  I do 
not  know  whether  one  often  finds  a people  that  makes  so  merry 
unreservedly  over  its  own  shortcomings.” 

One  outstanding  feature  of  Jewish  humor  is  its  preoccupation 
with  characterization  and  its  relative  unconcern  with  mechanical 
word-play.  Human  beings  are  not  viewed  en  masse  by  the  Jewish 
folk-mind  in  jokes  and  tales  but  are  highly  individualized,  probed 
into  psychologically  and  rounded  out  with  all  their  peculiarities 
and  foibles.  By  this  means  they  cease  being  just  amusing  manni- 
kins but  become  instinct  with  life.  Everybody  is  thus  able  to  recog- 
nize his  own  common  humanity  with  theirs.  Probably  no  other 
folklore  can  parade  such  a large  variety  of  distinctive  humorous 
characters  as  the  Jewish. 

Jewish  humor  is  seldom  savage  or  cruel,  but  genial,  tongue-in- 
cheek  and  philosophic.  To  be  sure,  it  holds  up  to  ridicule  stupid- 
ity, boorishness,  avarice,  hypocrisy  and  humbug.  It  gleefully 
exposes  smug  ignorance  and  the  hollow  pride  of  caste.  Yet  it  is 
rarely  marked  by  self-righteousness.  By  and  large  it  reveals  a 
tolerance  of  human  frailties. 



Certainly  not  all  Jewish  jokes  are  funny.  As  with  all  humor, 
they  require  a critical  and  selective  approach.  A large  body  of 
so-called  “Jewish  dialect  jokes”  are  not  Jewish  at  all,  but  the  con- 
fections of  anti-Semites  who  delight  in  ridiculing  and  slandering 
the  Jews.  About  this  type  of  joke  Freud  has  said:  “The  Jewish 
jokes  made  up  by  non-Jews  are  nearly  all  brutal  buffooneries  in 
which  the  wit  is  spoiled  by  the  fact  that  the  Jew  appears  as  a 
comic  figure  to  a stranger.  The  Jewish  jokes  which  originate  with 
Jews  admit  this,  but  they  know  their  merits  as  well  as  their  real 

The  overtones  of  satire,  irony  and  quip  we  hear  even  in  the 
Old  Testament.  For  example,  there  is  the  gay  mockery  of  the 
Prophet  Elijah  as  he  listens  to  the  idol-worshipping  soothsayers  of 
Baal,  invoking  their  god  morning,  noon  and  night:  “O  Baal,  hear 
us!”  To  this  the  rational-minded  Elijah  remarks  tauntingly:  “Cry 
ye  louder,  for  he  is  a god;  he  is  perhaps  talking  or  walking,  or 
he  is  on  a journey,  or  peradventure  he  sleepeth  and  must  be 

We  also  find  satire  and  irony  in  the  Prophets,  especially  in  the 
writings  of  Amos  and  Isaiah.  With  matchless  skill  they  lay  bare 
the  weaknesses  and  the  follies  of  their  contemporaries.  They  sati- 
rize the  hypocrite,  the  miser,  the  skinflint,  the  profligate,  the  co- 
quette, the  self-satisfied  and  the  self-righteous.  It  is  from  this  acid 
portraiture  that  much  of  Jewish  folklore  found  its  inspiration  and 
themes.  The  fables,  parables,  anecdotes  and  sayings  in  the  Talmud 
and  Midrash,  as  the  reader  of  this  book  will  find  out  for  himself, 
were  rich  in  those  very  characteristics  with  which  we  associate 
Jewish  humor  today. 

Laughter  is  a universal  bond  that  draws  all  men  closer.  Jewish 
humor  contains  every  variety  of  laughter:  bitter  and  sweet  and 
also  bitter-sweet  laughter;  ironic,  scornful  and  rapier-like  laugh- 
ter; gentle,  world-weary  laughter;  tongue-in-cheek,  skeptical  and 
wry  laughter;  wise  laughter  turned  deprecatingly  against  oneself. 
And  not  least,  the  turbulent  and  lusty  laughter  of  the  earth 
earthy,  the  infectious  belly-laughter  which  shakes  body,  minH  and 
emotions — an  affirmation  of  the  will-to-joy. 

The  liveliness  and  the  many-sidedness  of  Jewish  humor  make  it 
possible  for  everyone  to  find  in  it  that  which  will  suit  his  taste.  It 
is  a treasury  in  which  lies  stored  up  three  thousand  years  of  a 
people’s  laughter.  Its  variety  recalls  the  words  of  Bar-Hebraeus, 
the  Thirteenth  Century  Syrian-Jewish  folklorist,  in  his  introduc- 
tion to  his  Laughable  Stories:  “And  let  this  book  be  a devoted 
friend  to  the  reader,  whether  he  be  Muslim,  or  Jew,  or  Aramean, 
or  a man  belonging  to  a foreign  country  and  nation.  And  let  the 
man  who  is  learned,  I mean  to  say  the  man  who  hath  a bright 
understanding,  and  the  man  that  babbleth  conceitedly  even 



though  he  drive  everyone  mad,  and  also  every  other  man,  choose 
hat  is  best  for  himself.  And  let  each  pluck  the  flowers  that 
please  him  In  this  way  the  book  will  succeed  in  bringing  to- 
gether the  things  which  are  alike,  each  to  the  other  ” 



Droll  Characters 



It  was  but  inevitable  that  the  widespread  poverty  among  the 
Jews  of  Europe  should  have  given  rise  to  a class  of  beggars  and 
panhandlers.  They  possessed  all  the  traits  usually  associated  with 
their  type,  and  practiced  the  proverbial  skulduggery  of  beggars 
among  all  peoples.  There  were  lynx-eyed  “blind”  men,  “mutes” 
who  were  eloquent  with  abuse,  fleetfooted  “cripples”  and  “dying” 
nebiches  with  the  appetite  of  a healthy  horse.  There  are  innumer- 
able stories  about  beggars  in  Jewish  folklore  which  merrily 
describe  their  duplicities  in  obtaining  alms. 

Apart  from  them  was  a certain  type  of  beggar  who  stood  en- 
tirely in  a class  by  himself.  This  was  the  schnorrer.  Although  he 
had  his  counterpart  among  other  peoples  since  he  was  the  prod- 
uct of  the  same  material  necessity,  nevertheless,  he  was  cast  in  a 
distinctive  mold.  It  might  be  well  to  point  out  that  the  psycholo- 
gic makeup  of  the  schnorrer,  or  for  that  matter  of  any  other 
Jewish  type,  was  not  due  to  anything  innately  peculiar  to  the 
character  of  the  Jewish  people,  but  was  due  rather  to  the  peculiar 
conditions  with  which  Jewish  life  was  burdened  for  so  many  cen- 

What  were  the  characteristics  of  the  schnorrer?  He  disdained  to 
stretch  out  his  hand  for  alms  like  an  ordinary  beggar.  He  did  not 
solicit  aid — he  demanded  it.  In  fact,  he  considered  it  his  divine 
right.  Unlike  the  whining,  obsequious  beggar,  he  recoiled  from 
demeaning  himself,  this  by  no  means  from  the  compunctions  of  a 
sensitive  soul,  but  from  sheer  arrogance  and  vanity.  Since  he  was 
obliged  to  live  by  his  wits  he,  understandably  enough,  developed 
all  the  facile  improvisations  of  an  adventurer.  To  reach  his  objec- 
tive, he  considered  all  means  fair.  Tact  and  self-restraint  were  not 
his  strong  points;  they  would  only  prove  practical  stumbling- 
blocks  to  the  practice  of  his  “profession.”  Next  to  his  adroitness 



in  fleecing  the  philanthropic  sheep  was  his  chutzpah,  his  unmiti- 
gated impudence.  He  would  terrorize  his  prey  by  the  sheer  daring 
of  his  importunities,  leaving  him  both  speechless  and  wilted,  with 
no  desire  to  continue  the  unequal  combat. 

Schnorring  was  no  mean  art.  Duplicity  and  chutzpah  were  not 
enough;  one  also  had  to  be  trigger-intelligent,  imaginative,  per- 
suasive in  short,  a salesman  to  the  gullible  of  one’s  crying  pov- 
erty. Many  men  of  this  type  were  even  learned;  for 
Torah-scholarship  was  another  dart  in  the  quiver  of  schnorring 
persuasiveness.  It  often  required  the  superficial  glitter  and  respect- 
ability of  the  schnorrer’s  Torah-learning  to  make  a kind-hearted 
Jew,  steeped  in  the  bookish  traditions  of  his  people,  feel  that  it 
was  a privilege  to  be  mulcted. 

It  was  with  first-hand  knowledge  of  this  type  of  rogue  that  Is- 
rael Zangwill  created  his  literary  tour-de-force,  The  King  of 
Schnorrer.  When  the  smug  patron  of  the  story,  Joseph  Grobstock, 
complains  plaintively  to  the  “King  of  the  Schnorrers”:  “.  . . have 
I not  given  freely  of  my  hard-earned  gold?”  the  implacable  schnor- 
rer retorts  scornfully:  “For  your  own  diversion!  But  what  says 
the  Midrash?  ‘There  is  a wheel  rolling  in  the  world — not  he  who 
is  rich  today  is  rich  tomorrow,  but  this  one  He  brings  up  and  this 
one  He  brings  down,  as  is  said  in  the  seventy-fifth  Psalm.  There- 
fore lift  not  up  your  horn  on  high,  nor  speak  with  a stiff  neck.’  ” 
xi  ano^er  talent  a successful  schnorrer  had  to  possess. 

He  had  to  be  good  at  repartee,  at  telling  jokes,  at  proving  agree- 
ably diverting  to  his  rich  “client.”  This  helped  him  greatly  in 
maneuvering  with  lightning-fast  timing.  Imperceptibly  he  would 
spm  a spider-web  around  the  unwary  rich  fly  who,  like  Joseph 
Grobstock,  found  it  hard  to  disentangle  himself. 

, . *ke  sheer  originality  of  the  schnorrer' s stratagems,  and 

his  lively  wit  during  the  course  of  their  execution,  would  mollify 
his  victim  after  he  had  caught  his  breath.  If  the  latter  had  a sense 
"e  would  feel  amply  rewarded  for  the  fleecing. 

While  morose  rogues  were  given  a wide  berth,  gay  rogues 

such  as  talented  schnorrers— were  even  welcomed  by  some. 
Schnorrer  stories  abound  by  the  hundreds  in  Jewish  folklore.  They 
are  invariably  gay  with  impudent  mirth  and  have  brought  enor- 
mous diversion  to  the  folk. 


The  King  of  Schnorrers1 

In  the  days  when  Lord  George  Gordon  became  a Jew,  and 
was  suspected  of  insanity;  when,  out  of  respect  for  the 
prophecies,  England  denied  her  Jews  every  civic  right  except 



that  of  paying  taxes;  when  the  Gentleman’s  Magazine  had  ill 
words  for  the  infidel  alien;  when  Jewish  marriages  were  in- 
valid and  bequests  for  Hebrew  colleges  void;  when  a prophet 
prophesying  Primrose  Day  would  have  been  set  in  the  stocks, 
though  Pitt  inclined  his  private  ear  to  Benjamin  Goldsmid’s 
views  on  the  foreign  loans — in  those  days,  when  Tevele  Schiff 
was  Rabbi  in  Israel,  and  Dr.  de  Falk,  the  Master  of  the  Te- 
tragrammaton,  saint  and  Cabbalistic  conjuror,  flourished  in 
Wellclose  Square,  and  the  composer  of  ‘The  Death  of  Nel- 
son” was  a choirboy  in  the  Great  Synagogue;  Joseph  Grob- 
stock,  pillar  of  the  same,  emerged  one  afternoon  into  the 
spring  sunshine  at  the  fag-end  of  the  departing  stream  of 
worshippers.  In  his  hand  was  a large  canvas  bag,  and  in  his 
eyes  a twinkle. 

There  had  been  a special  service  of  prayer  and  thanksgiv- 
ing for  the  happy  restoration  of  his  Majesty’s  health,  and  the 
cantor  had  interceded  tunefully  with  Providence  on  behalf  of 
Royal  George  and  “our  most  amiable  Queen,  Charlotte.”  The 
congregation  was  large  and  fashionable — far  more  so  than 
when  only  a heavenly  sovereign  was  concerned — and  so  the 
courtyard  was  thronged  with  a string  of  Schnorrers  (beg- 
gars), awaiting  the  exit  of  the  audience,  much  as  the  vesti- 
bule of  the  opera-house  is  lined  by  footmen. 

They  were  a motley  crew,  with  tangled  beards  and  long 
hair  that  fell  in  curls,  if  not  the  curls  of  the  period;  but  the 
gabardines  of  the  German  Ghettoes  had  been  in  most  cases 
exchanged  for  the  knee-breeches  and  many-buttoned  jacket  of 
the  Londoner.  When  the  clothes  one  has  brought  from  the 
Continent  wear  out,  one  must  needs  adopt  the  attire  of  one’s 
superiors,  or  be  reduced  to  buying.  Many  bore  staves,  and 
had  their  loins  girded  up  with  coloured  handkerchiefs,  as 
though  ready  at  any  moment  to  return  from  the  Captivity. 
Their  woebegone  air  was  achieved  almost  entirely  by  not 
washing — it  owed  little  to  nature,  to  adventitious  aids  in  the 
shape  of  deformities.  The  merest  sprinkling  boasted  of  physi- 
cal afflictions,  and  none  exposed  sores  like  the  lazars  of  Italy 
or  contortions  like  the  cripples  of  Constantinople.  Such  crude 
methods  are  eschewed  in  the  fine  art  of  schnorring.  A green 
shade  might  denote  weakness  of  sight,  but  the  stone-blind  man 
bore  no  braggart  placard — his  infirmity  was  an  old  es- 
tablished concern  well  known  to  the  public,  and  conferring 
upon  the  proprietor  a definite  status  in  the  community.  He 
was  no  anonymous  atom,  such  as  drifts  blindly  through 


Christendom,  vagrant  and  apologetic.  Rarest  of  all  sights  in 
this  pageantry  of  Jewish  pauperdom  was  the  hollow  trouser- 
leg  or  the  empty  sleeve,  or  the  wooden  limb  fulfilling  either 
and  pushing  out  a proclamatory  peg. 

When  the  pack  of  Schnorrers  caught  sigh  of  Joseph  Grob- 
stock,  they  fell  upon  him  full-cry,  blessing  him.  He,  nothing 
surprised,  brushed  pompously  through  the  benedictions, 
though  the  twinkle  in  his  eye  became  a roguish  gleam.  Out- 
side the  iron  gates,  where  the  throng  was  thickest,  and  where 
some  elegant  chariots  that  had  brought  worshippers  from  dis- 
tant Hackney  were  preparing  to  start,  he  came  to  a standstill, 
surrounded  by  clamouring  Schnorrers,  and  dipped  his  hand 
slowly  and  ceremoniously  into  the  bag.  There  was  a moment 
of  breathless  expectation  among  the  beggars,  and  Joseph 
Grobstock  had  a moment  of  exquisite  consciousness  of  im- 
portance, as  he  stood  there  swelling  in  the  sunshine.  There 
was  no  middle  class  to  speak  of  in  the  eighteenth-century 
Jewry;  the  world  was  divided  into  rich  and  poor,  so  that  ev- 
eryone knew  his  station.  Joseph  Grobstock  was  satisfied  with 
that  in  which  it  had  pleased  God  to  place  him.  He  was  a 
jovial,  heavy-jowled  creature,  whose  clean-shaven  chin  was 
doubling,  and  he  was  habited  like  a person  of  the  first  respect- 
ability in  a beautiful  blue  body-coat  with  a row  of  big  yellow 
buttons.  The  frilled  shirt  front,  high  collar  of  the  very  newest 
fashion,  and  copious  white  neckerchief  showed  off  the  massive 
fleshiness  of  the  red  throat.  His  hat  was  of  the  Quaker  pat- 
tern, and  his  head  did  not  fail  of  the  periwig  and  the  pigtail, 
the  latter  being  heretical  in  name  only. 

What  Joseph  Grobstock  drew  from  the  bag  was  a small 
white-paper  packet,  and  his  sense  of  humour  led  him  to  place 
it  in  the  hand  furthest  from  his  nose;  for  it  was  a broad  hu- 
mour, not  a subtle.  It  enabled  him  to  extract  pleasure  from 
seeing  a fellow-mortal’s  hat  rollick  in  the  wind,  but  did  little 
to  alleviate  the  chase  for  his  own.  His  jokes  clapped  you  on 
the  back,  they  did  not  tickle  delicately. 

Such  was  the  man  who  now  became  the  complacent  cyno- 
sure of  all  eyes,  even  of  those  that  had  no  appeal  in  them,  as 
soon  as  the  principle  of  his  eleemosynary  operations  had  bro- 
ken on  the  crowd.  The  first  Schnorrer,  feverishly  tearing  open 
his  package,  had  found  a florin,  and,  as  by  electricity,  all  ex- 
cept the  blind  beggar  were  aware  that  Joseph  Grobstock  was 
distributing  florins.  The  distributor  partook  of  the  general 
consciousness,  and  his  lips  twitched.  Silently  he  dipped  again 



into  the  bag,  and,  selecting  the  hand  nearest,  put  a second 
white  package  into  it.  A wave  of  joy  brightened  the  grimy 
face,  to  change  instantly  to  one  of  horror. 

“You  have  made  a mistake — you  have  given  me  a penny!” 
cried  the  beggar. 

“Keep  it  for  your  honesty,”  replied  Joseph  Grobstock  im- 
perturbably, and  affected  not  to  enjoy  the  laughter  of  the  rest 
The  third  mendicant  ceased  laughing  when  he  discovered  that 
fold  on  fold  of  paper  sheltered  a tiny  sixpence.  It  was  now 
obvious  that  the  great  man  was  distributing  prize-packets,  and 
the  excitement  of  the  piebald  crowd  grew  momently.  Grab- 
stock  went  on  dipping,  lynx-eyed  against  second  applications. 
One  of  the  few  pieces  of  gold  in  the  lucky-bag  fell  to  the  soli- 
tary lame  man,  who  danced  in  his  joy  on  his  sound  leg,  while 
the  poor  blind  man  pocketed  his  half-penny,  unconscious  of 
ill-fortune,  and  merely  wondering  why  the  coin  came  swathed 
in  paper. 

By  this  time  Grobstock  could  control  his  face  no  longer, 
and  the  last  episodes  of  the  lottery  were  played  to  the  accom- 
paniment of  a broad  grin.  Keen  and  complex  was  his  enjoy- 
ment. There  was  not  only  the  general  surprise  at  this  novel 
feat  of  alms;  there  were  the  special  surprises  of  detail  written 
on  face  after  face,  as  it  flashed  or  fell  or  frowned  in  congru- 
ity  with  the  contents  of  the  envelope,  and  for  undercurrent  a 
delicious  hubbub  of  interjections  and  benedictions,  a 
stretching  and  withdrawing  of  palms,  and  a swift  shifting  of 
figures,  that  made  the  scene  a farrago  of  excitements.  So  that 
the  broad  grin  was  one  of  gratification  as  well  as  of  amuse- 
ment, and  part  of  the  gratification  sprang  from  a real  kind- 
liness of  heart — for  Grobstock  was  an  easy-going  man  with 
whom  the  world  had  gone  easy.  The  Schnorrers  were  ex- 
hausted before  the  packets,  but  the  philanthropist  was  in  no 
anxiety  to  be  rid  of  the  remnant.  Closing  the  mouth  of  the 
considerably  lightened  bag  and  clutching  it  tightly  by  the 
throat,  and  recomposing  his  face  to  gravity,  he  moved  slowly 
down  the  street  like  a stately  treasure-ship  flecked  by  the  sun- 
light. His  way  led  towards  Goodman  Fields,  where  his  man- 
sion was  situated,  and  he  knew  that  the  fine  weather  would 
bring  out  Schnorrers  enough.  And,  indeed,  he  had  not  gone 
many  paces  before  he  met  a figure  he  did  not  remember  hav- 
ing seen  before. 

Leaning  against  a post  at  the  head  of  the  narrow  passage 
which  led  to  Bevis  Marks  was  a tall,  black-bearded,  turbaned 



personage,  a first  glance  at  whom  showed  him  of  the  true 
tribe.  Mechanically  Joseph  Grobstock’s  hand  went  to  the 
lucky-bag,  and  he  drew  out  a neatly-folded  packet  and  ten- 
dered it  to  the  stranger. 

The  stranger  received  the  gift  graciously,  and  opened  it 
gravely,  the  philanthropist  loitering  awkwardly  to  mark  the 
issue.  Suddenly  the  dark  face  became  a thunder-cloud,  the 
eyes  flashed  lightning. 

“An  evil  spirit  in  your  ancestors’  bones!”  hissed  the 
stranger,  from  between  his  flashing  teeth.  “Did  you  come 
here  to  insult  me?” 

“Pardon,  a thousand  pardons!”  stammered  the  magnate, 
wholly  taken  aback.  “I  fancied  you  were  a — a — a — poor 

“And,  therefore,  you  came  to  insult  me!” 

No,  no,  I thought  to  help  you,”  murmured  Grobstock, 
turning  from  red  to  scarlet.  Was  it  possible  he  had  foisted  his 
charity  upon  an  undeserving  millionaire?  No!  Through  all  the 
clouds  of  his  own  confusion  and  the  recipient’s  anger,  the  fig- 
ure of  a Schnorrer  loomed  too  plain  for  mistake.  None  but  a 
Schnorrer  would  wear  a home-made  turban,  issue  of  a black 
cap  crossed  with  a white  kerchief;  none  but  a Schnorrer 
would  unbutton  the  first  nine  buttons  of  his  waistcoat,  or,  if 
this  relaxation  were  due  to  the  warmth  of  the  weather,  coun- 
teract it  by  wearing  an  over-garment,  especially  one  as  heavy 
as  a blanket,  with  buttons  the  size  of  compasses  and  flaps 
reaching  nearly  to  his  shoe-buckles,  even  though  its  length 
were  only  congruous  with  that  of  his  undercoat,  which  al- 
ready reached  the  bottoms  of  his  knee-breeches.  Finally,  who 
but  a Schnorrer  would  wear  this  overcoat  cloak-wise,  with 
dangling  sleeves,  full  of  armless  suggestion  from  a side  view? 
Quite  apart  from  the  shabbiness  of  the  snuff-coloured  fabric, 
it  was  amply  evident  that  the  wearer  did  not  dress  by  rule  or 
measure.  Yet  the  disproportions  of  his  attire  did  but  enhance 
the  picturesqueness  of  a personality  that  would  be  striking 
even  in  a bath,  though  it  was  not  likely  to  be  seen  there.  The 
beard  was  jet  black,  sweeping  and  unkempt,  and  ran  up  his 
cheeks  to  meet  the  raven  hair,  so  that  the  vivid  face  was 
framed  in  black;  it  was  a long,  tapering  face  with  sanguine  lips 
gleaming  at  the  heart  of  a black  bush;  the  eyes  were  large  and 
lambent,  set  in  deep  sockets  under  black  arching  eyebrows; 
the  nose  was  long  and  Coptic;  the  brow  low  but  broad,  with 



straggling  wisps  of  hair  protruding  from  beneath  the  turban. 
His  right  hand  grasped  a plain  ashen  staff. 

Worthy  Joseph  Grobstock  found  the  figure  of  the  mendi- 
cant only  too  impressive;  he  shrank  uneasily  before  the  indig- 
nant eyes. 

“I  mean  to  help  you,”  he  repeated. 

“And  this  is  how  one  helps  a brother  in  Israel?”  said  the 
Schnorrer,  throwing  the  paper  contemptuously  into  the  phi- 
lanthropist’s face.  It  struck  him  on  the  bridge  of  the  nose,  but 
impinged  so  mildly  that  he  felt  at  once  what  was  the  matter. 
The  packet  was  empty — the  Schnorrer  had  drawn  a blank; 
the  only  one  the  good-natured  man  had  put  into  the  bag. 

The  Schnorrer1  s audacity  sobered  Joseph  Grobstock  com- 
pletely; it  might  have  angered  him  to  chastise  the  fellow,  but 
it  did  not.  His  better  nature  prevailed;  he  began  to  feel 
shamefaced,  fumbled  sheepishly  in  his  pocket  for  a crown; 
then  hesitated,  as  fearing  this  peace-offering  would  not  alto- 
gether suffice  with  so  rare  a spirit,  and  that  he  owed  the 
stranger  more  than  silver — an  apology  to  wit.  He  proceeded 
honestly  to  pay  it,  but  with  a maladroit  manner,  as  one  unac- 
customed to  the  currency. 

“You  are  an  impertinent  rascal,”  he  said,  “but  I daresay 
you  feel  hurt.  Let  me  assure  you  I did  not  know  there  was 
nothing  in  the  packet.  I did  not,  indeed.” 

“Then  your  steward  has  robbed  me!”  exclaimed  the  Schnor- 
rer excitedly.  “You  let  him  make  up  the  packets,  and  he  has 
stolen  my  money — the  thief,  the  transgressor,  thrice-cursed 
who  robs  the  poor.” 

“You  don’t  understand,”  interrupted  the  magnate  meekly. 
“I  made  up  the  packets  myself.” 

“Then,  why  do  you  say  you  did  not  know  what  was  in 
them?  Go,  you  mock  my  misery!” 

“Nay,  hear  me  out!”  urged  Grobstock  desperately.  “In 
some  I placed  gold,  in  the  greater  number  silver,  in  a few 
copper,  in  one  alone — nothing.  That  is  the  one  you  have 
drawn.  It  is  your  misfortune.” 

“My  misfortune!”  echoed  the  Schnorrer  scornfully.  “It  is 
your  misfortune — I did  not  even  draw  it.  The  Holy  One, 
blessed  be  He,  has  punished  you  for  your  heartless  jesting 
with  the  poor — making  a sport  for  yourself  of  their  misfor- 
tunes, even  as  the  Philistines  sported  with  Samson.  The  good 
deed  you  might  have  put  to  your  account  by  a gratuity  to 
me,  God  has  taken  from  you.  He  has  declared  you  unworthy 



of  achieving  righteousness  through  me.  Go  your  way,  mur- 

“Murderer!”  repeated  the  philanthropist,  bewildered  by  this 
harsh  view  of  his  action. 

“Yes,  murderer!  Stands  it  not  in  the  Talmud  that  he  who 
shames  another  is  as  one  who  spills  his  blood?  And  have  you 
not  put  me  to  shame — if  anyone  had  witnessed  your  almsgiv- 
ing, would  he  not  have  laughed  in  my  beard?” 

The  pillar  of  the  Synagogue  felt  as  if  his  paunch  were 

“But  the  others — ” he  murmured  deprecatingly.  “I  have 
not  shed  their  blood — have  I not  given  freely  of  my  hard- 
earned  gold?” 

“For  your  own  diversion,”  retorted  the  Schnorrer  implaca- 
bly. “But  what  says  the  Midrash?  There  is  a wheel  rolling  in 
the  world — not  he  who  is  rich  to-day  is  rich  to-morrow,  but 
this  one  He  brings  up,  and  this  one  He  brings  down,  as  is 
said  in  the  seventy-fifth  Psalm.  Therefore,  lift  not  up  your 
horn  on  high,  nor  speak  with  a stiff  neck.” 

He  towered  above  the  unhappy  capitalist,  like  an  an- 
cient prophet  denouncing  a swollen  monarch.  The  poor  man 
put  his  hand  involuntarily  to  his  high  collar  as  if  to  explain 
away  his  apparent  arrogance,  but  in  reality  because  he  was 
not  breathing  easily  under  the  Schnorrer’s  attack. 

“You  are  an  uncharitable  man,”  he  panted  hotly,  driven  to 
a line  of  defence  he  had  not  anticipated.  “I  did  it  not  from 
wantonness,  but  from  faith  in  Heaven.  I know  well  that  God 
sits  turning  a wheel — therefore  I did  not  presume  to  turn  it 
myself.  Did  I not  let  Providence  select  who  should  have  the 
silver  and  who  the  gold,  who  the  copper  and  who  the  emp- 
tiness? Besides,  God  alone  knows  who  really  needs  my  as- 
sistance— I have  made  Him  my  almoner;  I have  cast  my 
burden  on  the  Lord.” 

“Epicurean!”  shrieked  the  Schnorrer.  “Blasphemer!  Is  it 
thus  you  would  palter  with  the  sacred  texts?  Do  you  forget 
what  the  next  verse  says:  ‘Bloodthirsty  and  deceitful  men 
shall  not  live  out  half  their  days’?  Shame  on  you — you  a 
Gabbai  (treasurer)  of  the  Great  Synagogue.  You  see  I know 
you,  Joseph  Grobstock.  Has  not  the  beadle  of  your 
Synagogue  boasted  to  me  that  you  have  given  him  a guinea 
for  brushing  your  spatterdashes?  Would  you  think  of  offering 
him  a packet?  Nay,  it  is  the  poor  that  are  trodden  on — they 
whose  merits  are  in  excess  of  those  of  beadles.  But  the  Lord 



will  find  others  to  take  up  his  loans — for  he  who  hath  pity  on 
the  poor  lendeth  to  the  Lord.  You  are  no  true  son  of  Israel.” 

The  Schnorrer' s tirade  was  long  enough  to  allow  Grobstock 
to  recover  his  dignity  and  his  breath. 

“If  you  really  knew  me,  you  would  know  that  the  Lord  is 
considerably  in  my  debt,”  he  rejoined  quietly.  “When  next 
you  would  discuss  me,  speak  with  the  Psalms-men,  not  the 
beadle.  Never  have  I neglected  the  needy.  Even  now,  though 
you  have  been  insolent  and  uncharitable,  I am  ready  to  be- 
friend you  if  you  are  in  want.” 

“If  I am  in  want!”  repeated  the  Schnorrer  scornfully.  “Is 
there  anything  I do  not  want?” 

“You  are  married?” 

“You  correct  me — wife  and  children  are  the  only  things  I 
do  not  lack.” 

“No  pauper  does,”  quoth  Grobstock,  with  a twinkle  of 
restored  humour. 

“No,”  assented  the  Schnorrer  sternly.  “The  poor  man  has 
the  fear  of  Heaven.  He  obeys  the  Law  and  the  Command- 
ments. He  marries  while  he  is  young — and  his  spouse  is  not 
cursed  with  barrenness.  It  is  the  rich  man  who  transgresses 
the  ludgment,  who  delays  to  come  under  the  Canopy.” 

“Ah!  well,  here  is  a guinea — in  the  name  of  my  wife,” 
broke  in  Grobstock  laughingly.  “Or  stay — since  you  do  not 
brush  spatterdashes — here  is  another.” 

“In  the  name  of  my  wife,”  rejoined  the  Schnorrer  with  dig- 
nity, “I  thank  you.” 

“Thank  me  in  your  own  name,”  said  Grobstock.  “I  mean 
tell  it  me.” 

“I  am  Manasseh  Bueno  Barzillai  Azevedo  da  Costa,”  he 
answered  simply. 

“A  Sephardi!”2  exclaimed  the  philanthropist. 

“Is  it  not  written  on  my  face,  even  as  it  is  written  on  yours 
that  you  are  a Tedesco?3  It  is  the  first  time  that  I have  taken 
gold  from  one  of  your  lineage.” 

“Oh,  indeed!”  murmured  Grobstock,  beginning  to  feel 
small  again. 

“Yes — are  we  not  far  richer  than  your  community?  What 
need  have  I to  take  the  good  deeds  away  from  my  own 
people — they  have  too  few  opportunities  for  beneficence  as  it 
is,  being  so  many  of  them  wealthy;  brokers  and  West  India 
merchants,  and — ” 



“But  I,  too,  am  a financier,  and  an  East  India  Director,” 
Grobstock  reminded  him. 

“Maybe;  but  your  community  is  yet  young  and  strug- 
gling — your  rich  men  are  as  the  good  men  in  Sodom  for  mul- 
titude. You  are  the  immigrants  of  yesterday — refugees  from 
the  Ghettoes  of  Russia  and  Poland  and  Germany.  But  we,  as 
you  are  aware,  have  been  established  here  for  generations;  in 
the  Peninsula  our  ancestors  graced  the  courts  of  kings,  and 
controlled  the  purse-strings  of  princes;  in  Holland  we  held  the 
empery  of  trade.  Ours  have  been  the  poets  and  scholars  in 
Israel.  You  cannot  expect  that  we  should  recognise  your 
rabble,  which  prejudices  us  in  the  eyes  of  England.  We  made 
the  name  of  Jew  honourable;  you  degrade  it.  You  are  as  the 
mixed  multitude  which  came  up  with  our  forefathers  out  of 

“Nonsense!”  said  Grobstock  sharply.  “All  Israel  are  breth- 

“Esau  was  the  brother  of  Israel,”  answered  Manasseh  sen- 
tentiously.  “But  you  will  excuse  me  if  I go  a-marketing,  it  is 
such  a pleasure  to  handle  gold.”  There  was  a note  of  wistful 
pathos  in  the  latter  remark  which  took  off  the  edge  of  the 
former,  and  touched  Joseph  with  compunction  for  bandying 
words  with  a hungry  man  whose  loved  ones  were  probably 
starving  patiently  at  home. 

“Certainly,  haste  away,”  he  said  kindly. 

“I  shall  see  you  again,”  said  Manasseh,  with  a valedictory 
wave  of  his  hand,  and  digging  his  staff  into  the  cobblestones 
he  journeyed  forwards  without  bestowing  a single  backward 
glance  upon  his  benefactor. 

Grobstock’s  road  took  him  to  Petticoat  Lane  in  the  wake 
of  Manasseh.  He  had  no  intention  of  following  him,  but  did 
not  see  why  he  should  change  his  route  for  fear  of  the  Schnor- 
rer,  more  especially  as  Manasseh  did  not  look  back.  By  this 
time  he  had  become  conscious  again  of  the  bag  he  carried, 
but  he  had  no  heart  to  proceed  with  the  fun.  He  felt  con- 
science stricken,  and  had  recourse  to  his  pockets  instead  in  his 
progress  through  the  narrow  jostling  market-street,  where  he 
scarcely  ever  bought  anything  personally  save  fish  and  good 
deeds.  He  was  a connoisseur  in  both.  To-day  he  picked  up 
many  a good  deed  cheap,  paying  pennies  for  articles  he  did 
not  take  away — shoe-latchets  and  cane-strings,  barley-sugar 
and  butter-cakes.  Suddenly,  through  a chink  in  an  opaque 
mass  of  human  beings,  he  caught  sight  of  a small  attractive 

162  the  human  comedy 

salmon  on  a fishmonger’s  slab.  His  eye  glittered,  his  chops 
watered.  He  elbowed  his  way  to  the  vendor,  whose  eye 
caught  a corresponding  gleam,  and  whose  finger  went  to  his 
hat  in  respectful  greeting. 

“Good  afternoon,  Jonathan,”  said  Grobstock  jovially.  111 
take  that  salmon  there — how  much?” 

“Pardon  me,”  said  a voice  in  the  crowd,  “I  am  just  bar- 
gaining for  it.” 

Grobstock  started.  It  was  the  voice  of  Manasseh. 

“Stop  that  nonsense,  da  Costa,”  responded  the  fishmonger. 
“You  know  you  won’t  give  me  my  price.  It  is  the  only  one  I 
have  left,”  he  added,  half  for  the  benefit,  of  Grobstock.  “I 
couldn’t  let  it  go  under  a couple  of  guineas.” 

“Here’s  your  money,”  cried  Manasseh  with  passionate  con- 
tempt, and  sent  two  golden  coins  spinning 'musically  upon  the 

In  the  crowd  sensation,  in  Grobstock’s  breast  astonishment, 
indignation,  and  bitterness.  He  was  struck  momentarily 
dumb.  His  face  purpled.  The  scales  of  the  salmon  shone  like 
a celestial  vision  that  was  fading  from  him  by  his  own  stupid- 

“I’ll  take  that  salmon,  Jonathan,”  he  repeated,  spluttering. 
“Three  guineas.” 

“Pardon  me,”  repeated  Manasseh,  “it  is  too  late.  This  is 
not  an  auction.”  He  seized  the  fish  by  the  tail. 

Grobstock  turned  upon  him,  goaded  to  the  point  of 
apoplexy.  “You!”  he  cried.  “You — you — rogue!  How  dare 
you  buy  salmon!” 

“Rogue  yourself!”  retorted  Manasseh.  “Would  you  have 
me  steal  salmon?” 

“You  have  stolen  my  money,  knave,  rascal!” 

“Murderer!  Shedder  of  blood!  Did  you  not  give  me  the 
money  as  a free-will  offering,  for  the  good  of  your  wife’s 
soul?  I call  on  you  before  all  these  witnesses  to  confess  your- 
self a slanderer!” 

“Slanderer,  indeed!  I repeat,  you  are  a knave  and  a jacka- 
napes. You — a pauper — a beggar — with  a wife  and  children. 
How  can  you  have  the  face  to  go  and  spend  two  guineas — 
two  whole  guineas — all  you  have  in  the  world— on  a mere 
luxury  like  salmon?” 

Manasseh  elevated  his  arched  eyebrows. 

“If  I do  not  buy  salmon  when  I have  two  guineas,”  he  an- 
swered quietly,  “when  shall  I buy  salmon?  As  you  say,  it  is  a 



luxury;  very  dear.  It  is  only  on  rare  occasions  like  this  that 
my  means  run  to  it.”  There  was  a dignified  pathos  about  the 
rebuke  that  mollified  the  magnate.  He  felt  that  there  was  rea- 
son in  the  beggar’s  point  of  view — though  it  was  a point  to 
which  he  would  never  himself  have  risen,  unaided.  But  righ- 
teous anger  still  simmered  in  him;  he  felt  vaguely  that  there 
was  something  to  be  said  in  reply,  though  he  also  felt  that 
even  if  he  knew  what  it  was,  it  would  have  to  be  said  in  a 
lower  key  to  correspond  with  Manasseh’s  transition  from  the 
high  pitch  of  the  opening  passages.  Not  finding  the  requisite 
repartee  he  was  silent. 

“In  the  name  of  my  wife,”  went  on  Manasseh,  swinging 
the  salmon  by  the  tail,  “I  ask  you  to  clear  my  good  name 
which  you  have  bespattered  in  the  presence  of  my  very 
tradesmen.  Again  I call  upon  you  to  confess  before  these 
witnesses  that  you  gave  me  the  money  yourself  in  charity. 
Come!  Do  you  deny  it?” 

“No,  I don’t  deny  it,”  murmured  Grobstock,  unable  to  un- 
derstand why  he  appeared  to  himself  like  a whipped  cur,  or 
how  what  should  have  been  a boast  had  been  transformed 
into  an  apology  to  a beggar. 

m “In  *6  name  of  my  wife,  I thank  you,”  said  Manasseh. 

She  loves  salmon,  and  fries  with  unction.  And  now,  since 
you  have  no  further  use  for  that  bag  of  yours,  I will  relieve 
you  of  its  burden  by  taking  my  salmon  home  in  it.”  He  took 
the  canvas  bag  from  the  limp  grasp  of  the  astonished 
Tedesco,  and  dropped  the  fish  in.  The  head  protruded,  sur- 
veying the  scene  with  a cold,  glassy,  ironical  eye. 

t Good  afternoon  all,”  said  the  Schnorrer  courteously. 

One . moment,  ’ called  out  the  philanthropist,  when  he 
found  his  tongue.  “The  bag  is  not  empty — there  are  a num- 
ber of  packets  still  left  in  it.” 

“So  much  the  better!”  said  Manasseh  soothingly.  “You  will 
be  saved  from  the  temptation  to  continue  shedding  the  blood 
of  the  poor,  and  I shall  be  saved  from  spending  all  your 
bounty  upon  salmon — an  extravagance  you  were  right  to  de- 

“But — but!”  began  Grobstock. 

no  buts,’  ” protested  Manasseh,  waving  his  bag  dep- 
recatingly.  You  were  right.  You  admitted  you  were  wrong 
before;  shall  I be  less  magnanimous  now?  In  the  presence  of 
all  these  witnesses  I acknowledge  the  justice  of  your  rebuke.  I 
ought  not  to  have  wasted  two  guineas  on  one  fish.  It  was  not 



worth  it.  Come  over  here,  and  I will  tell  you  something.”  He 
walked  out  of  earshot  of  the  bystanders,  turning  down  a side 
alley  opposite  the  stall,  and  beckoned  with  his  salmon  bag. 
The  East  India  Director  had  no  course  but  to  obey.  He  would 
probably  have  followed  him  in  any  case,  to  have  it  out  with 
him,  but  now  he  had  a humiliating  sense  of  being  at  the 
Schnorrer's  beck  and  call. 

“Well,  what  more  have  you  to  say?”  he  demanded  gruffly. 

“I  wish  to  save  you  money  in  future,”  said  the  beggar  in 
low,  confidential  tones.  “That  Jonathan  is  a son  of  the  separa- 
tion! The  salmon  is  not  worth  two  guineas — no,  on  my  soul! 
If  you  had  not  come  up  I should  have  got  it  for  twenty-five 
shillings.  Jonathan  stuck  on  the  price  when  he  thought  you 
would  buy.  I trust  you  will  not  let  me  be  the  loser  by  your 
arrival,  and  that  if  I should  find  less  than  seventeen  shillings 
in  the  bag  you  will  make  it  up  to  me.” 

The  bewildered  financier  felt  his  grievance  disappearing  as 
by  sleight  of  hand. 

Manasseh  added  winningly:  “I  know  you  are  a gentleman, 
capable  of  behaving  as  finely  as  any  Sephardi.” 

This  handsome  compliment  completed  the  Schnorrer's  vic- 
tory, which  was  sealed  by  his  saying,  “And  so  I should  not 
like  you  to  have  it  on  your  soul  that  you  had  done  a poor 
man  out  of  a few  shillings.” 

Grobstock  could  only  remark  meekly:  “You  will  find  more 
than  seventeen  shillings  in  the  bag.” 

“Ah,  why  were  you  bom  a Tedesco!”  cried  Manasseh  ecstat- 
ically. “Do  you  know  what  I have  a mind  to  do?  To  come 
and  be  your  Sabbath-guest!  Yes,  I will  take  supper  with  you 
next  Friday,  and  we  will  welcome  the  Bride — the  holy  Sab- 
bath— together!  Never  before  have  I sat  at  the  table  of  a 
Tedesco — but  you — you  are  a man  after  my  own  heart.  Your 
soul  is  a son  of  Spain.  Next  Friday  at  six — do  not  forget.” 

“But — but  I do  not  have  Sabbath-guests,”  faltered  Grob- 

“Not  have  Sabbath-guests!  No,  no,  I will  not  believe  you 
are  of  the  sons  of  Belial,  whose  table  is  spread  only  for  the 
rich,  who  do  not  proclaim  your  equality  with  the  poor  even 
once  a week.  It  is  your  fine  nature  that  would  hide  its  bene- 
factions. Do  not  I,  Manasseh  Bueno  Barzillai  Azevedo  da 
Costa,  have  at  my  Sabbath-table  every  week  Yankele  ben 
Yitzchok — a Pole?  And  if  I have  a Tedesco  at  my  table,  why 
should  I draw  the  line  there?  Why  should  I not  permit  you,  a 



Tedesco,  to  return  the  hospitality  to  me,  a Sephardi?  At  six, 
then!  I know  your  house  well — it  is  an  elegant  building  that 
does  credit  to  your  taste — do  not  be  uneasy — I shall  not  fail 
to  be  punctual.  A Dios!” 

This  time  he  waved  his  stick  fraternally,  and  stalked  down 
a turning.  For  an  instant  Grobstock  stood  glued  to  the  spot, 
crushed  by  a sense  of  the  inevitable.  Then  a horrible  thought 
occurred  to  him. 

Easy-going  man  as  he  was,  he  might  put  up  with  the  visita- 
tion of  Manasseh.  But  then  he  had  a wife,  and,  what  was 
worse,  a livery  servant.  How  could  he  expect  a livery  servant 
to  tolerate  such  a guest?  He  might  fly  from  the  town  on  Fri- 
day evening,  but  that  would  necessitate  troublesome  explana- 
tions. And  Manasseh  would  come  again  the  next  Friday.  That 
was  certain.  Manasseh  would  be  like  grim  death — his  coming, 
though  it  might  be  postponed,  was  inevitable.  Oh,  it  was  too 
terrible.  At  all  costs  he  must  revoke  the  invitation.  Placed  be- 
tween Scylla  and  Charybdis,  between  Manasseh  and  his  man- 
servant, he  felt  he  could  sooner  face  the  former. 

“Da  Costa!”  he  called  in  agony.  “Da  Costa!” 

The  Schnorrer  turned,  and  then  Grobstock  found  he  was 
mistaken  in  imagining  he  preferred  to  face  da  Costa. 

“You  called  me?”  enquired  the  beggar. 

"Ye — e — s,”  faltered  the  East  India  Director,  and  stood 

“What  can  I do  for  you?”  said  Manasseh  graciously. 

“Would  you  mind — very  much — if  I — if  I asked  you — ” 

“Not  to  come,”  was  in  his  throat,  but  stuck  there. 

“If  you  asked  me — ” said  Manasseh  encouragingly. 

“To  accept  some  of  my  clothes,”  flashed  Grobstock,  with  a 
sudden  inspiration.  After  all,  Manasseh  was  a fine  figure  of  a 
man.  If  he  could  get  him  to  doff  those  musty  garments  of  his 
he  might  almost  pass  him  off  as  a prince  of  the  blood,  foreign 
by  his  beard — at  any  rate  he  could  be  certain  of  making  him 
acceptable  to  the  livery  servant.  He  breathed  freely  again  at 
this  happy  solution  of  the  situation. 

“Your  cast-off  clothes?”  asked  Manasseh.  Grobstock  was 
not  sure  whether  the  tone  was  supercilious  or  eager.  He  has- 
tened to  explain.  “No,  not  quite  that.  Second-hand  things  I 
am  still  wearing.  My  old  clothes  were  already  given  away  at 
Passover  to  Simeon  the  Psalms-man.  These  are  comparatively 



“Then  I would  beg  you  to  excuse  me,”  said  Manasseh,  with 
a stately  wave  of  the  bag. 

“Oh,  but  why  not?”  murmured  Grobstock,  his  blood  run- 
ning cold  again. 

“I  cannot,”  said  Manasseh,  shaking  his  head. 

“But  they  will  just  about  fit  you,”  pleaded  the  philanthro- 

“That  makes  it  all  the  more  absurd  for  you  to  give  them  to 
Simeon  the  Psalms-man,”  said  Manasseh  sternly.  “Still,  since 
he  is  your  clothes-receiver,  I could  not  think  of  interfering 
with  his  office.  It  is  not  etiquette.  I am  surprised  you  should 
ask  me  if  I should  mind.  Of  course  I should  mind — I should 
mind  very  much.” 

“But  he  is  not  my  clothes-receiver,”  protested  Grobstock. 
“Last  Passover  was  the  first  time  I gave  them  to  him,  because 
my  cousin,  Hyman  Rosenstein,  who  used  to  have  them,  has 

“But  surely  he  considers  himself  you  cousin’s  heir,”  said 
Manasseh.  “He  expects  all  your  old  clothes  henceforth.” 

“No.  I gave  him  no  such  promise.” 

Manasseh  hesitated. 

“In  that  case,”  repeated  Grobstock  breathlessly. 

“On  condition  that  I am  to  have  the  appointment  per- 
manently, of  course.” 

“Of  course,”  echoed  Grobstock  eagerly. 

“Because  you  see,”  Manasseh  condescended  to  explain,  “it 
hurts  one’s  reputation  to  lose  a client.” 

“Yes,  yes,  naturally,”  said  Grobstock  soothingly.  “I  quite 
understand.”  Then,  feeling  himself  slipping  into  future  em- 
barrassments, he  added  timidly,  “Of  course  they  will  not  al- 
ways be  so  good  as  the  first  lot,  because — ■” 

“Say  no  more,”  Manasseh  interrupted  reassuringly,  “I  will 
come  at  once  and  fetch  them.” 

“No.  I will  send  them,”  cried  Grobstock,  horrified  afresh. 

“I  could  not  dream  of  permitting  it.  What!  Shall  I put  you 
to  all  that  trouble  which  should  rightly  be  mine?  I will  go  at 
once — the  matter  shall  be  settled  without  delay,  I promise 
you;  as  it  is  written,  ‘I  made  haste  and  delayed  not!’  Follow 
me!”  Grobstock  suppressed  a groan.  Here  had  all  his  man- 
oeuvring landed  him  in  a worse  plight  than  ever.  He  would 
have  to  present  Manasseh  to  the  livery  servant  without  even 
that  clean  face  which  might  not  unreasonably  have  been  ex- 


pected  for  the  Sabbath.  Despite  the  text  quoted  by  the  erudite 
Schnorrer,  he  strove  to  put  off  the  evil  hour. 

“Had  you  not  better  take  the  salmon  home  to  your  wife 
first?”  said  he. 

“My  duty  is  to  enable  you  to  complete  your  good  deed  at 
once.  My  wife  is  unaware  of  the  salmon.  She  is  in  no  sus- 

Even  as  the  Schnorrer  spake  it  flashed  upon  Grobstock  that 
Manasseh  was  more  presentable  with  the  salmon  than  without 
it — in  fact,  that  the  salmon  was  the  salvation  of  the  situation. 
When  Grobstock  bought  fish  he  often  hired  a man  to  carry 
home  the  spoil.  Manasseh  would  have  all  the  air  of  such  a 
loafer.  Who  would  suspect  that  the  fish  and  even  the  bag  be- 
longed to  the  porter,  though  purchased  with  the  gentleman’s 
money?  Grobstock  silently  thanked  Providence  for  the  inge- 
nious way  in  which  it  had  contrived  to  save  his  self-respect. 
As  a mere  fish-carrier  Manasseh  would  attract  no  second 
glance  from  the  household;  once  safely  in,  it  would  be  com- 
paratively easy  to  smuggle  him  out,  and  when  he  did  come  on 
Friday  night  it  would  be  in  the  metamorphosing  glories  of  a 
body-coat,  with  his  unspeakable  undergarment  turned  into  a 
shirt  and  his  turban  knocked  into  a cocked  hat. 

They  emerged  into  Aldgate,  and  then  turned  down  Leman 
Street,  a fashionable  quarter,  and  so  into  Great  Prescott 
Street.  At  the  critical  street  comer  Grobstock’s  composure  be- 
gan to  desert  him:  he  took  out  his  handsomely  ornamented 
snuff-box  and  administered  to  himself  a mighty  pinch.  It  did 
him  good,  and  he  walked  on  and  was  well  nigh  arrived  at  his 
own  door  when  Manasseh  suddenly  caught  him  by  a coat 

“Stand  still  a second,”  he  cried  imperatively. 

“What  is  it?”  murmured  Grobstock,  in  alarm. 

“You  have  spilt  snuff  all  down  your  coat  front,”  Mannas- 
seh  replied  severely.  “Hold  the  bag  a moment  while  I brash  it 

Joseph  obeyed,  and  Manasseh  scrupulously  removed  every 
particle  with  such  patience  that  Grobstock’s  was  exhausted. 

“Thank  you,”  he  said  at  last,  as  politely  as  he  could.  “That 
will  do.” 

“No,  it  will  not  do,”  replied  Manasseh.  “I  cannot  have  my 
coat  spoiled.  By  the  time  it  comes  to  me  it  will  be  a mass  of 
stains  if  I don’t  look  after  it.” 



“Oh,  is  that  why  you  took  so  much  trouble?”  said  Grob- 
stock,  with  an  uneasy  laugh. 

“Why  else?  Do  you  take  me  for  a beadle,  a brusher  of 
gaiters?”  enquired  Manasseh  haughtily.  “There  now!  that  is 
the  cleanest  I can  get  it.  You  would  escape  these  droppings  if 
you  held  your  snuff-box  so — ” Manasseh  gently  took  the 
snuff-box  and  began  to  explain,  walking  on  a few  paces. 

“Ah,  we  are  at  home!”  he  cried,  breaking  off  the  object- 
lesson  suddenly.  He  pushed  open  the  gate,  ran  up  the  steps  of 
the  mansion  and  knocked  thunderously,  then  snuffed  himself 
magnificently  from  the  bejewelled  snuff-box. 

Behind  came  Joseph  Grobstock,  slouching  limply,  and  car- 
rying Manasseh  da  Costa’s  fish. 

They  Got  the  Itch 

As  A rich  merchant  of  Lemberg  was  looking  out  of  the  win- 
dow one  day  he  saw  a strange  sight.  A shabby-looking  man 
was  rubbing  his  back  against  the  picket-fence.  It  was  clear, 
the  poor  fellow  had  an  itch.  So  the  rich  man  called  him  into 
his  house  and  listened  to  his  tale  of  woe. 

“I  haven’t  had  a bath  for  months,”  complained  the  unfor- 
tunate man,  “I  haven’t  on  one  stitch  of  underwear,  and  I’m 
so  hungry  I could  eat  nails!” 

The  rich  man  was  moved  to  tears  by  the  man’s  desperate 
plight.  So  he  dined  and  wined  him,  gave  him  underwear,  and, 
in  addition,  ten  kreutzer  for  the  steambath.  Then  he  sent  him 
away  with  God’s  blessings. 

The  news  of  the  rich  man’s  loving  kindness  swept  through 
Lemberg  like  wildfire.  That  very  day  two  schnorrers  took 
their  position  against  his  picket  fence  and,  with  woeful  cries, 
fell  to  rubbing  their  backs  vigorously  against  it.  Attracted  by 
their  cries,  the  rich  man  went  to  the  window  and,  when  he 
saw  what  the  two  rogues  were  up  to,  he  got  very  angry. 

“Out  of  my  sight,  you  shameless  schnorrers\"  he  cried. 
“Stop  rubbing  your  filthy  backs  against  my  picket  fence!” 

“Why  did  you  help  the  man  with  the  itch  before  and  why 
do  you  refuse  to  help  us  now?”  they  asked  reproachfully. 
“Tell  us,  in  what  way  is  he  better  than  we?  We  too  have  the 

“Is  it  my  duty  to  relieve  every  man  of  his  itch?”  cried  the 
rich  man,  outraged.  “If  I helped  the  man  with  the  itch  before 
it  was  because  he  had  no  one  to  scratch  his  poor  back  for 


him.  As  for  you — you  louts — you  are  two.  Go  ahead — scratch 
each  other’s  backs!” 

On  the  Minsk-Pinsk  Line 

Once  a poor  Jew  had  to  go  to  Pinsk  from  Minsk.  As  he  had 
no  money  he  got  on  the  train  without  a ticket.  At  the  first 
stop  the  conductor  took  him  by  the  scruff  of  his  neck,  kicked 
him  in  his  rear  end  and  threw  him  off  the  train. 

The  man  got  up,  brushed  the  dust  off  his  clothes  and 
boarded  the  next  train  to  Pinsk.  This  time,  too,  the  conductor 
kicked  him  in  his  rear  end  and  threw  him  off  at  the  next  sta- 

For  a third  time  he  boarded  a train  and,  as  the  conduc- 
tor appeared,  a man  sitting  next  to  him  inquired,  “How  far 
are  you  going,  uncle?” 

“That  depends!  If  my  backside  holds  out.  I’m  going  to 

The  Schnorrer  and  the  Farmer 

A city  schnorrer  once  came  to  a poor  farmer  and  asked  for 
a night’s  lodging. 

“You  are  indeed  welcome,”  said  the  farmer  and  he  treated 
the  schnorrer  with  the  traditional  Jewish  hospitality  shown  to 
penniless  strangers.  His  wife  fed  him  well  and  gave  him  a 
comfortable  bed  to  sleep  in. 

The  schnorrer  was  so  pleased  with  his  host  that  in  the 
morning  he  said  to  him,  “I  like  it  here  so  much — perhaps  you 
will  let  me  stay  until  tomorrow.” 

“You  are  welcome  to  stay,”  answered  the  polite  farmer, 
but  not  as  heartily  as  the  day  before. 

That  day  the  farmer’s  wife  fed  the  stranger,  but  a little  less 
lavishly.  He  felt  the  growing  coldness  toward  him  but  paid  no 
attention  to  it. 

The  following  morning  he  decided  he  would  stay  another 
day,  but  this  time  he  did  not  ask  for  permission,  for  he  was 
afraid  it  might  be  refused.  So  he  stayed  on  and,  as  the  farmer 
and  his  wife  were  polite,  they  said  nothing  to  him  about  it. 
But  the  meals  they  served  him  grew  skimpier. 

“What  kind  of  hospitality  is  this?”  suddenly  cried  the 
schnorrer  angrily.  “Do  you  want  me  to  starve  to  death?” 

The  farmer  felt  abashed  and  began  to  apologize.  “Believe 
me,  it  isn’t  from  stinginess.  We’re  poor  people  and  we’ve 



hardly  enough  food  for  ourselves.  If  you  stay  another  day 
we’ll  simply  have  nothing  more  to  eat.” 

“Good  God!”  exclaimed  the  schnorrer.  “Had  I only  known 
this  I wouldn’t  have  accepted  your  hospitality  in  the  first 
place.  Please  forgive  me!  I’ll  leave  tomorrow  morning.  Be  so 
good  as  to  wake  me  bright  and  early.” 

At  dawn  the  farmer  came  and  woke  him. 

“It’s  time  to  get  up,”  he  said.  “The  cock  has  already 

“What!”  cried  the  schnorrer,  overjoyed.  “You  still  have  a 
cock?  Then  I can  stay  another  day!” 

One  Blind  Look  Was  Enough 

A blind  beggar  stood  on  Essex  Street  in  New  York’s  East 
Side  holding  out  his  little  tin  cup. 

“Help  a blind  man!”  he  whined  piteously. 

An  old  Jewish  woman  hobbled  by. 

“Nebich — a poor  blind  man!”  she  commiserated,  and  gave 
him  a dime. 

The  beggar  was  enraptured. 

“As  soon  as  I took  the  first  look  at  you  I knew  you  had  a 
kind  heart!”  he  exclaimed. 

Price  Is  No  Object 

The  woman  of  the  house  took  pity  on  a Jewish  beggar  and 
invited  him  on  the  Sabbath  day  to  eat  gefillte  fish.  She  placed 
a platter  of  black  bread  and  white  chaleh  on  the  table.  She 
noticed  however  that  the  beggar  was  gorging  himself  on  the 
chaleh  which  was  more  expensive,  but  didn’t  touch  the  black 
bread  at  all. 

“Why  do  you  eat  only  chaleh  and  not  black  bread?”  she 
asked  with  some  irritation. 

“I  like  chaleh  better,”  he  said. 

“My  friend,  chaleh  is  very  dear." 

“Believe  me,  auntie,  it’s  worth  itl” 

A Sure  Cure 

A schnorrer  came  to  a large  city  and  went  to  see  a rich  man 
for  an  alms.  But  the  servants  would  not  let  him  in  for  the 
rich  man  lay  gravely  ill. 


“I  know  a sure  cure  for  the  sick  man,”  the  schnorrer  in- 

And  so  they  let  him  in. 

“I  have  a sure  cure  for  you,”  said  the  schnorrer  when  he 
was  taken  to  the  sick  man’s  bedside.  “But  I want  to  be  well 
rewarded  for  it.” 

“What’s  your  cure?”  asked  the  rich  man. 

“Move  to  Kolomea  right  away!” 

“What’s  so  good  about  Kolomea?  Are  there  big  doctors 

“No,  not  at  all.  But  you  see,  I come  from  Kolomea  and,  in 
the  memory  of  the  oldest  inhabitant  there,  no  rich  man  has 
ever  died  in  Kolomea!” 

Every  Expert  to  His  Own  Field 

A certain  schnorrer  attempted  to  gain  Rothschild’s  ear,  only 
to  meet  with  rebuff.  The  beggar  at  last  determined  to  create  a 
bit  of  turmoil,  this  being  one  of  the  time-honored  techniques 
when  all  appears  to  be  lost. 

So  the  schnorrer  set  up  a commotion  in  the  foyer  of  the 
Rothschild  establishment,  shrieking  at  the  top  of  his  voice, 
“My  family  is  starving  to  death,  and  the  Baron  refuses  to  see 

The  baron,  driven  to  distraction  by  the  racket,  came  out. 
“Very  well,”  he  declared  philosophically.  “I’m  defeated.  Here 
are  twenty  thalers.  And  may  I add  a bit  of  advice.  If  you 
hadn’t  made  so  much  noise,  you’d  have  got  forty.” 

“Sir,”  said  the  schnorrer,  pocketing  the  money,  “you  are  a 
banker;  do  I give  you  banking  advice?  I’m  a schnorrer;  don’t 
give  me  schnorring  advice.” 

No  Credit 

The  schnorrer  made  his  usual  request  modestly,  firmly,  with 

“But  I haven’t  a cent  in  the  house  right  now.  Come  back 
tomorrow,”  said  the  householder. 

“Ah,  my  friend,”  said  the  schnorrer,  “if  only  you  knew 
what  a fortune  I have  lost  by  giving  credit.” 


He  Spared  No  Expense 

Dr.  Levine,  the  great  specialist,  had  just  finished  examining 
Blum  the  schnorrer. 

“What  is  the  cost?”  asked  the  patient 
“Twenty-five  dollars.” 

“Twenty-five  dollars!  It’s  too  much!  I ain’t  got  it!” 

“Too  much?  All  right,  fifteen  dollars.” 

“Fifteen  dollars!  That’s  out  of  the  question!” 

“Out  of  the  question?  Make  it  five  dollars.” 

“Five  dollars!  Who  has  five  dollars?  I’m  a poor  man!” 

The  doctor  had  had  enough.  “If  five  dollars  is  too  much, 
how  much  have  you?” 

“I  have  nothing.” 

The  doctor  was  now  angry.  “If  you  have  nothing,  how  do 
you  have  the  nerve  to  come  to  so  expensive  a specialist  as 

“For  my  health,”  shouted  Blum,  beating  his  breast  with  the 
strength  of  the  righteous,  “ nothing  is  too  expensive!” 

A Local  Reputation 

A strange  schnorrer  had  just  received  so  warm  a welcome 
that  he  was  touched. 

“Your  welcome  is  a heart-warming  thing,”  he  said  to  a rich 
miser,  “but  how  do  you  know  that  I come  from  another 

“Because  you  came  to  me,”  said  the  miser.  “Anybody  from 
this  town  would  know  better.” 

The  Schnorrer-in-Law 

Every  Friday  evening  for  years,  the  schnorrer  had  appeared 
at  the  rich  man’s  house  for  the  Sabbath  meal.  But  one  Fri- 
day, a young  stranger  appeared  with  him. 

The  host,  put  out  by  this,  asked,  “Who  is  this?” 

“Oh,”  replied  the  schnorrer  tolerantly,  “I  suppose  I should 
have  told  you.  It’s  my  new  son-in-law.  You  see,  I promised  to 
give  him  board  for  the  first  year!” 



Wags  and  Wits 


Like  every  other  people  the  Jews  were  mirthfully  entertained  by 
their  wits  and  wags,  pranksters  and  scalawags.  It  was  a normal 
expression  of  folk-life.  There  were  a great  number  of  such  droll 
characters  among  Jews.  Many  were  nameless,  but  others  were 
real  persons,  like  Shmerl  Shnitkover,  Yossel  Marshalik,  Reb 
Shloime  Ludmirer,  Mordchi  Kharkover,  Motke  Chabad,  Sheike 
Feifer  and  Froyim  Greidinger.  Some  of  the  anecdotes  in  which 
they  figured  are  still  current  but,  by  and  large,  their  pranks  and 
jests  are  no  longer  associated  with  their  names  and  have  been  as- 
similated into  the  large  body  of  anonymous  Jewish  humor.  And 
often,  where  attribution  does  occur,  it  is  of  very  doubtful  authen- 
ticity; the  same  stories  and  jokes  have  been  variously  ascribed  to 
several  of  them.  They  have  very  often  served  conveniently  as  per- 
sonality-pegs on  which  to  hang  a popular  story  or  jest 

Gay  as  all  these  wags  were,  none  of  them  could  compare  with 
Hershel  Ostropolier,  for  he  was  a man  of  comic  originality.  He 
belongs  to  the  merry  company  of  Nasreddin  and  Tyl  Eulenspie- 
gel.  Like  them  he  was  a folk-jester  whose  crackling  wit  and  droll 
pranks  shook  the  Yiddish-speaking  world  with  laughter.  Like 
them  too  Hershel  was  no  mythical  character — a product  of  the 
folk  fancy.  On  the  contrary,  it  was  Hershel  who  began  the 
process  of  creating  folklore  about  himself.  If  he  has  had  such  an 
enormous  vogue  to  this  very  day,  it  is  because  his  drolleries 
represent  the  sanity  of  laughter  among  Jews. 

Hershel  was  endowed  with  an  unusual  capacity  for  self-irony,  a 
rueful  comicality  in  facing  disaster,  and  a philosophy  of  disen- 
chantment unmarred  by  a shred  of  defeatism.  From  the  countless 
stories  circulating  about  him  for  the  past  one  hundred  and  fifty 
years  emerges  the  portrait  of  a remarkably  clear  and  uninvolved 
character.  He  was  an  impish  likeable  schlimazl  whose  misfortunes 
did  not,  by  any  means,  arise  from  his  own  personal  character 
weaknesses  but  rather  from  the  illogic  of  the  topsy-turvy  world 
he  lived  in. 

Born  in  Balta,  in  the  Ukraine,  during  the  second  half  of  the 
Eighteenth  Century,  Hershel  was  condemned  by  pauperized 
parents  and  by  the  lack  of  opportunity  so  general  in  the  ghetto  to 
a life  without  a trade  or  calling.  Whatever  he  put  his  hand  to 
went  askew.  But  because  he  was  a dynamic  individual,  blessed 
with  a nimble  intelligence  and  an  indestructible  optimism,  he  and 
his  family  managed  to  subsist  by  his  wits  as  well  as  by  his  wit. 



For  a number  of  years  during  the  period  1770-1810,  when 
Rabbi  Boruch  reigned  as  the  hereditary  Hasidic  tzaddik  of 
Miedziboz,  Hershel  served  as  his  “court”  jester.  The  rabbi,  who 
was  the  dynastic  successor  of  his  grandfather,  Rabbi  Israel ’Baal- 
Shem,  the  founder  of  the  Hasidic  movement,  was  utterly  unlike 
his  saintly  ancestor.  He  was  a vain  self-indulged  man  who  lived 
as  lavishly  as  the  Polish  Pans  on  the  income  of  the  “redemption 
fees”  he  collected  from  his  worshipping  followers.  Because  he 
suffered  from  melancholia,  and  also  because  he  wished  to  ape  the 
landed  Polish  nobility,  he  decided  to  acquire  a jester.  So  he  grand- 
ly hired  the  down-at-the-heels  Hershel  from  Ostropolia  to  drive 
his  gloom  away  with  merry  quips  and  capers. 

It  goes  without  saying  that,  although  Rabbi  Boruch  was  divert- 
ed by  Hershel’s  clowning,  he  didn’t  like  him  a bit.  How  could 
he?  Hershel  was  not  particular  upon  whom  he  played  his  pranks. 
He  struck  at  Rabbi  Boruch’s  most  vulnerable  weaknesses,  and  it 
must  have  hurt.  Nor  in  truth  can  it  be  said  that  Hershel  was 
charmed  by  Rabbi  Boruch.  In  fact,  there  is  every  evidence  that  he 
disliked  him  heartily,  as  would  any  man  of  sensibility  if  he  were 
obliged  to  play  the  mountebank  to  a stingy  and  parasitical  nonen- 
tity whose  entire  stock-in-trade  lay  in  his  yiches,  in  his  illustrious 
ancestry.  Tradition  has  it  that  Hershel  Ostropolier  could  boast 
more  Torah-learning  than  his  rabbinical  master  and  on  occasion 
would  successfully  expose  his  ignorant  pretensions  before  the 


He  Worried  Fast 

Once  there  was  a rabbi  who  was  most  unusual  in  one  re- 
spect: he  was  a prosperous  merchant  on  the  side.  It  chanced 
that  because  of  misjudgment  he  staked  all  his  money  on  a 
certain  business  deal  and  almost  overnight  became  a poor 
man.  His  disciples,  hearing  of  this,  hastened  to  his  house  in 
order  to  comfort  him  for  they  expected  to  find  him  broken  in 
spirit.  To  their  astonishment  they  found  him  serenely  ab- 
sorbed in  his  studies. 

“Holy  Rabbi!”  they  stammered  incredulously.  “We  cannot 
understand  . . . don’t  you  worry  at  all?” 

“Certainly  I worry,”  said  the  rabbi,  “but  you  see  God  has 
blessed  me  with  a quick  brain.  The  worrying  that  others  do  in 
a month  I can  do  in  an  hour!” 


The  Choice 

The  little  Jewish  jester  was  overcome  with  grief.  His  world 
was  at  an  end!  For  a long  time  he  had  served  the  Caliph  at 
Bagdad  and  his  Court,  keeping  them  amused  whenever  they 
called  upon  him.  But  in  a moment  of  thoughtlessness  he  had 
displeased  his  ruler  who  ordered  that  he  be  put  to  death. 

However,”  said  the  Caliph,  “in  consideration  of  the  merry 
jests  you’ve  told  me  all  these  years,  I will  let  you  choose  how 
you  are  to  die.” 

“O  most  generous  Caliph,”  replied  the  jester,  “if  it’s  all  the 
same  to  you,  I choose  death  by  old  age!” 

Mutual  Introduction 

A Jew  was  walking  on  the  Bismarck  Plate  in  Berlin  when 
unintentionally  he  brushed  against  a Prussian  officer. 

“Swine!”  roared  the  officer. 

“Cohen!”  replied  the  Jew  with  a stiff  bow. 

Tit  for  Tat 4 

Once  I was  a rabbiner.  A rabbiner,  not  a rabbi.  That  is,  I 
was  called  rabbi — but  a rabbi  of  the  crown. 

To  old-country  Jews  I don’t  have  to  explain  what  a rabbi 
of  the  crown  is.  They  know  the  breed.  What  are  his  great  re- 
sponsibilities? He  fills  out  birth  certificates,  officiates  at  cir- 
cumcisions, performs  marriages,  grants  divorces.  He  gets  his 
share  from  the  living  and  the  dead.  In  the  synagogue  he  has  a 
place  of  honor,  and  when  the  congregation  rises,  he  is  the 
first  to  stand.  On  legal  holidays  he  appears  in  a stovepipe  hat 
and  holds  forth  in  his  best  Russian:  "Gospoda  Prihozhanel” 
To  take  it  for  granted  that  among  our  people  a rabbiner  is 
well  loved— let’s  not  say  any  more.  Say  rather  that  we  put 
up  with  him,  as  we  do  a government  inspector  or  a deputy 
sheriff.  And  yet  he  is  chosen  from  among  the  people,  that 
is,  every  three  years  a proclamation  is  sent  us:  “Na  Osnavania 
Predpisania  . . .”  Or,  as  we  would  say:  “Your  Lord,  the  Gov- 
ernor, orders  you  to  come  together  in  the  synagogue,  poor 
little  Jews,  and  pick  out  a rabbiner  for  yourselves  . . .” 

Then  the  campaign  begins.  Candidates,  hot  discussions, 
brandy,  and  maybe  even  a bribe  or  two.  After  which  come 
charges  and  countercharges,  the  elections  are  annulled,  and 
we  are  ordered  to  hold  new  elections.  Again  the  procla- 



mations:  “Na  Osnavania  Predpisania  . . Again  candidates, 
discussions,  party  organizations,  brandy,  a bribe  or  two  . . . 
That  was  the  life! 

Well,  there  I was — a rabbiner  in  a small  town  in  the  prov- 
ince of  Poltava.  But  I was  anxious  to  be  a modem  one.  I 
wanted  to  serve  the  public.  So  I dropped  the  formalities  of 
my  position  and  began  to  mingle  with  the  people — as  we  say: 
to  stick  my  head  into  the  community  pot.  I got  busy  with  the 
Talmud  Torah,  the  charity  fund,  interpreted  a law,  settled 
disputes  or  just  gave  plain  advice. 

The  love  of  settling  disputes,  helping  people  out,  or  advis- 
ing them,  I inherited  from  my  father  and  my  uncles.  They — 
may  they  rest  in  peace — also  enjoyed  being  bothered  all  the 
time  with  other  people’s  business.  There  are  two  kinds  of 
people  in  the  world:  those  that  you  can’t  bother  at  all,  and 
others  whom  you  can  bother  all  the  time.  You  can  climb 
right  on  their  heads — naturally  not  in  one  jump,  but  gradu- 
ally. First  you  climb  into  their  laps,  then  on  to  their  shoul- 
ders, then  their  heads — and  after  that  you  can  jump  up  and 
down  on  their  heads  and  stamp  on  their  hearts  with  your 
heavy  boots — as  long  as  you  want  to. 

I was  that  kind,  and  without  boasting  I can  tell  you  that  I 
had  plenty  of  ardent  followers  and  plain  hangers-on  who 
weren’t  ashamed  to  come  every  day  and  fill  my  head  with 
their  clamoring  and  sit  around  till  late  at  night.  They  never 
refused  a glass  of  tea,  or  cigarettes.  Newspapers  and  books 
they  took  without  asking.  In  short,  I was  a regular  fellow. 

Well,  there  came  a day  . . . The  door  opened,  and  in 
walked  the  very  foremost  men  of  the  town,  the  sparkling 
best,  the  very  cream  of  the  city.  Four  householders — men  of 
affairs — you  could  almost  say:  real  men  of  substance.  And 
who  were  these  men?  Three  of  them  were  the  Troika — that 
was  what  we  called  them  in  our  town  because  they  were  to- 
gether all  the  time — partners  in  whatever  business  any  one  of 
them  was  in.  They  always  fought,  they  were  always  suspi- 
cious of  each  other,  and  watched  everything  the  others  did, 
and  still  they  never  separated — working  always  on  this  princi- 
ple: if  the  business  is  a good  one  and  there  is  profit  to  be 
made,  why  shouldn’t  I have  a lick  at  the  bone  too?  And  on 
the  other  hand,  if  it  should  end  in  disaster — you’ll  be  buried 
along  with  me,  and  lie  with  me  deep  in  the  earth.  And  what 
does  God  do?  He  brings  together  the  three  partners  with  a 


fourth  one.  They  operate  together  a little  less  than  a year  and 
end  up  in  a brawl.  That  is  why  they’re  here. 

What  had  happened?  “Since  God  created  thieves,  swindlers 
and  crooks,  you  never  saw  a thief,  swindler  or  crook  like  this 
one.”  That  is  the  way  the  three  old  partners  described  the 
fourth  one  to  me.  And  he,  the  fourth,  said  the  same  about 
them.  Exactly  the  same,  word  for  word.  And  who  was  this 
fourth  one?  He  was  the  quiet  little  man,  a little  innocent- 
looking fellow,  with  thick,  dark  eyebrows  under  which  a pair 
of  shrewd,  ironic,  little  eyes  watched  everything  you  did.  Ev- 
eryone called  him  Nachman  Lekach. 

His  real  name  was  Nachman  Noss’n,  but  everybody  called 
him  Nachman  Lekach,  because  as  you  know,  Noss’n  is  the 
Hebrew  for  “he  gave,”  and  Lekach  means  “he  took,”  and  in 
all  the  time  we  knew  him,  no  one  had  ever  seen  him  give 
anything  to  anyone — while  at  taking  no  one  was  better. 

Where  were  we?  Oh,  yes . . . So  they  came  to  the  rabbiner 
with  the  complaints,  to  see  if  he  could  find  a way  of 
straightening  out  their  tangled  accounts.  “Whatever  you  de- 
cide, Rabbi,  and  whatever  you  decree,  and  whatever  you  say, 
will  be  final.” 

That  is  how  the  three  old  partners  said  it,  and  the  fourth, 
Reb  Nachman,  nodded  with  that  innocent  look  on  his  face  to 
indicate  that  he  too  left  it  all  up  to  me:  “For  the  reason,”  his 
eyes  said,  “that  I know  that  I have  done  no  wrong.”  And  he 
sat  down  in  a comer,  folded  his  arms  across  his  chest  like  an 
old  woman,  fixed  his  shrewd,  ironic,  little  eyes  on  me,  and 
waited  to  see  what  his  partners  would  have  to  say.  And  when 
they  had  all  laid  out  their  complaints  and  charges,  presented 
all  their  evidence,  said  all  they  had  to  say,  he  got  up,  patted 
down  his  thick  eyebrows,  and  not  looking  at  the  others  at  all, 
only  at  me,  with  those  deep,  deep,  shrewd  little  eyes  of  his, 
he  proceeded  to  demolish  their  claims  and  charges — so  com- 
pletely, that  it  looked  as  if  they  were  the  thieves,  swindlers 
and  crooks — the  three  partners  of  his — and  he,  Nachman 
Lekach,  was  a man  of  virtue  and  piety,  the  little  chicken  that 
is  slaughtered  before  Yom  Kippur  to  atone  for  our  sins — a 
sacrificial  lamb.  “And  every  word  that  you  heard  them  say  is 
a complete  lie,  it  never  was  and  never  could  be.  It’s  simply 
out  of  the  question.”  And  he  proved  with  evidence,  argu- 
ments and  supporting  data  that  everything  he  said  was  true 
and  holy,  as  if  Moses  himself  had  said  it. 

All  the  time  he  was  talking,  the  others,  the  Troika,  could 



hardly  sit  in  their  chairs.  Every  moment  one  or  another  of 
them  jumped  up,  clutched  his  head — or  his  heart!  “Of  all 
things!  How  can  a man  talk  like  that!  Such  lies  and  false- 
hoods!” It  was  almost  impossible  to  calm  them  down,  to  keep 
them  from  tearing  at  the  fourth  one’s  beard.  As  for  me — the 
rabbiner — it  was  hard,  very  hard  to  crawl  out  from  this  horri- 
ble tangle,  because  by  now  it  was  clear  that  I had  a fine  band 
to  deal  with,  all  four  of  them  swindlers,  thieves  and  crooks, 
and  informers  to  boot,  and  all  four  of  them  deserving  a 
severe  punishment.  But  what?  At  last  this  idea  occurred  to 
me,  and  I said  to  them: 

“Are  you  ready,  my  friends?  I am  prepared  to  hand  down 
my  decision.  My  mind  is  made  up.  But  I won’t  disclose  what 
I have  to  say  until  each  of  you  has  deposited  twenty-five 
rubles — to  prove  that  you  will  act  upon  the  decision  I am 
about  to  hand  down.” 

“With  the  greatest  of  pleasure,”  the  three  spoke  out  at 
once,  and  Nachman  Lekach  nodded  his  head,  and  all  four 
reached  into  their  pockets,  and  each  one  counted  out  his 
twenty-five  on  the  table.  I gathered  up  the  money,  locked  it 
up  in  a drawer,  and  then  I gave  them  my  decision  in  these 

“Having  heard  the  complaints  and  the  arguments  of  both 
parties,  and  having  examined  your  accounts  and  studied  your 
evidence,  I find  according  to  my  understanding  and  deep  con- 
viction, that  all  four  of  you  are  in  the  wrong,  and  not  only  in 
the  wrong,  but  that  it  is  a shame  and  a scandal  for  Jewish 
people  to  conduct  themselves  in  such  a manner — to  falsify  ac- 
counts, perjure  yourselves  and  even  act  as  informers.  There- 
fore I have  decided  that  since  we  have  a Talmud  Torah  in 
our  town  with  many  children  who  have  neither  clothes  nor 
shoes,  and  whose  parents  have  nothing  with  which  to  pay 
their  tuition,  and  since  there  has  been  no  help  at  all  from  you 
gentlemen  (to  get  a few  pennies  from  you  one  has  to  reach 
down  into  your  very  gizzards)  therefore  it  is  my  decision  that 
this  hundred  rubles  of  yours  shall  go  to  the  Talmud  Torah, 
and  as  for  you,  gentlemen,  you  can  go  home,  in  good  health, 
and  thanks  for  your  contribution.  The  poor  children  will  now 
have  some  shoes  and  socks  and  shirts  and  pants,  and  I’m  sure 
they’ll  pray  to  God  for  you  and  your  children.  Amen.” 

Having  heard  the  sentence,  the  three  old  partners — the 
Troika — looked  from  one  to  the  other — flushed,  unable  to 
speak.  A decision  like  this  they  had  not  anticipated.  The  only 



one  who  could  say  a word  was  Reb  Nachman  Lekach.  He 
got  up,  patted  down  his  thick  eyebrows,  held  out  a hand,  and 
looking  at  me  with  his  ironic  little  eyes,  said  this: 

“I  thank  you,  Rabbi  Rabbiner,  in  behalf  of  all  four  of  us, 
for  the  wise  decision  which  you  have  just  made  known.  Such 
a judgment  could  have  been  made  by  no  one  since  King  Sol- 
omon himself.  There  is  only  one  thing  that  you  forgot  to  say, 
Rabbi  Rabbiner,  and  that  is:  what  is  your  fee  for  this  wise 
and  just  decision?” 

“I  beg  your  pardon,”  I tell  him.  “You’ve  come  to  the 
wrong  address.  I am  not  one  of  those  rabbiners  who  tax  the 
living  and  the  dead.”  That  is  the  way  I answered  him,  like  a 
real  gentleman.  And  this  was  his  reply: 

“If  that’s  the  case,  then  you  are  not  only  a sage  and  a 
Rabbi  among  men,  you’re  an  honest  man  besides.  So,  if  you 
would  care  to  listen,  I’d  like  to  tell  you  a story.  Say  that  we 
will  pay  you  for  your  pains  at  least  with  a story.” 

“Good  enough.  Even  with  two  stories.” 

“In  that  case,  sit  down,  Rabbi  Rabbiner,  and  let  us  have 
your  cigarette  case.  I’ll  tell  you  an  interesting  story,  a true 
one,  too,  something  that  happened  to  me.  What  happened  to 
others  I don’t  like  to  talk  about.” 

And  we  lit  our  cigarettes,  sat  down  around  the  table,  and 
Reb  Nachman  spread  out  his  thick  eyebrows,  and  looking  at 
me  with  his  shrewd,  smiling,  little  eyes,  he  slowly  began  to 
tell  his  true  story  of  what  had  once  happened  to  him  himself. 

All  this  happened  to  me  a long  time  ago.  I was  still  a 
young  man  and  I was  living  not  far  from  here,  in  a village 
near  the  railroad.  I traded  in  this  and  that,  I had  a small  tav- 
ern, made  a living.  A Rothschild  I didn’t  become,  but  bread 
we  had,  and  in  time  there  were  about  ten  lewish  families  liv- 
ing close  by — because,  as  you  know,  if  one  of  us  makes  a liv- 
ing, others  come  around.  They  think  you’re  shoveling  up  gold 
. . . But  that  isn’t  the  point.  What  I was  getting  at  was  that 
right  in  the  midst  of  the  busy  season  one  year,  when  things 
were  moving  and  traffic  was  heavy,  my  wife  had  to  go  and 
have  a baby — our  boy — our  first  son.  What  do  you  say  to 
that?  “Congratulations!  Congratulations  everybody!”  But  that 
isn’t  all.  You  have  to  have  a bris,  the  circumcision.  I dropped 
everything,  went  into  town,  bought  all  the  good  things  I could 
find,  and  came  back  with  the  Mohel  with  all  his  instruments, 
and  for  good  measure  I also  brought  the  shammes  of  the 



synagogue.  I thought  that  with  these  two  holy  men  and  my- 
self and  the  neighbors  we’d  have  the  ten  men  that  we  needed, 
with  one  to  spare.  But  what  does  God  do?  He  has  one  of  my 
neighbors  get  sick — he  is  sick  in  bed  and  can’t  come  to  the 
bris,  you  can’t  carry  him.  And  another  has  to  pack  up  and  go 
off  to  the  city.  He  can’t  wait  another  day!  And  here  I am 
without  the  ten  men.  Go  do  something.  Here  it  is — Friday! 
Of  all  days,  my  wife  has  to  pick  Friday  to  have  the  bris — the 
day  before  the  Sabbath.  The  Mohel  is  frantic — he  has  to  go 
back  right  away.  The  shammes  is  actually  in  tears.  “What  did 
you  ever  drag  us  off  here  for?”  they  both  want  to  know.  And 
what  can  I do? 

All  I can  think  of  is  to  run  off  to  the  railroad  station.  Who 
knows — so  many  people  come  through  every  day — maybe 
God  will  send  some  one.  And  that’s  just  what  happened.  I 
come  running  up  to  the  station — the  agent  has  just  called  out 
that  a train  is  about  to  leave.  I look  around — a little  roly-poly 
man  carrying  a huge  traveling  bag  comes  flying  by,  all 
sweating  and  out  of  breath,  straight  toward  the  lunch 
counter.  He  looks  over  the  dishes — what  is  there  a good  Jew 
can  take  in  a country  railroad  station?  A piece  of  herring — 
an  egg.  Poor  fellow — you  could  see  his  mouth  was  watering. 
I grab  him  by  the  sleeve.  “Uncle,  are  you  looking  for  some- 
thing to  eat,”  I ask  him,  and  the  look  he  gives  me  says: 
“How  did  you  know  that?”  I keep  on  talking:  “May  you  live 
to  be  a hundred — God  himself  must  have  sent  you.”  He  still 
doesn’t  understand,  so  I proceed:  “Do  you  want  to  earn  the 
blessings  of  eternity — and  at  the  same  time  eat  a beef  roast 
that  will  melt  in  your  mouth,  with  a fresh,  white  loaf  right 
out  of  the  oven?”  He  still  looks  at  me  as  if  I’m  crazy.  “Who 
are  you?  What  do  you  want?” 

So  I tell  him  the  whole  story — what  a misfortune  had  over- 
taken us:  here  we  are,  all  ready  for  the  bris,  the  Mohel  is 
waiting,  the  food  is  ready — and  such  food! — and  we  need  a 
tenth  man!  “What’s  that  got  to  do  with  me?”  he  asks,  and  I 
tell  him : What  s that  got  to  do  with  you?  Why — everything 
depends  on  you— you’re  the  tenth  man!  I beg  you — come 
with  me.  You  will  earn  all  the  rewards  of  heaven — and  have 
a delicious  dinner  in  the  bargain!”  “Are  you  crazy,”  he  asks 
me,  “or  are  you  just  out  of  your  head?  My  train  is  leaving  in 
a few  minutes,  and  it’s  Friday  afternoon — almost  sundown. 
Do  you  know  what  that  means?  In  a few  more  hours  the  Sab- 
bath will  catch  up  with  me,  and  I’ll  be  stranded.”  “So  what!” 


I tell  him.  “So  you’ll  take  the  next  train.  And  in  the  meantime 
you’ll  earn  eternal  life — and  taste  a soup,  with  fresh 
dumplings,  that  only  my  wife  can  make  . . .” 

Well,  why  make  the  story  long?  I had  my  way.  The  roast 
and  the  hot  soup  with  fresh  dumplings  did  their  work.  You 
could  see  my  customer  licking  his  lips.  So  I grab  the  traveling 
bag  and  I lead  him  home,  and  we  go  through  with  the  bris.  It 
was  a real  pleasure!  You  could  smell  the  roast  all  over  the 
house,  it  had  so  much  garlic  in  it.  A roast  like  that,  with 
fresh  warm  twist,  is  a delicacy  from  heaven.  And  when  you 
consider  that  we  had  some  fresh  dill  pickles,  and  a bottle  of 
beer,  and  some  cognac  before  the  meal  and  cherry  cider  after 
the  meal — you  can  imagine  the  state  our  guest  was  in!  His 
cheeks  shone  and  his  forehead  glistened.  But  what  then?  Be- 
fore we  knew  it  the  afternoon  was  gone.  My  guest  jumps  up, 
he  looks  around,  sees  what  time  it  is,  and  almost  has  a stroke! 
He  reaches  for  his  traveling  bag:  “Where  is  it?”  I say  to  him 
“What’s  your  hurry?  In  the  first  place,  do  you  think  we’ll  let 
you  run  off  like  that — before  the  Sabbath?  And  in  the  second 
place — who  are  you  to  leave  on  a journey  an  hour  or  two  be- 
fore the  Sabbath?  And  if  you’re  going  to  get  caught  out  in 
the  country  somewhere,  you  might  just  as  well  stay  here  with 

He  groans  and  he  sighs.  How  could  I do  a thing  like  that 
to  him — keep  him  so  late!  What  did  I have  against  him?  Why 
hadn’t  I reminded  him  earlier?  He  doesn’t  stop  bothering  me. 
So  I say  to  him:  “In  the  first  place,  did  I have  to  tell  you  that 
it  was  Friday  afternoon?  Didn’t  you  know  it  yourself?  And  in 
the  second  place,  how  do  you  know — maybe  it’s  the  way  God 
wanted  it?  Maybe  He  wanted  you  to  stay  here  for  the  Sab- 
bath so  you  could  taste  some  of  my  wife’s  fish?  I can  guaran- 
tee you,  that  as  long  as  you’ve  eaten  fish,  you  haven’t  eaten 
fish  like  my  wife’s  fish — not  even  in  a dream!”  Well,  that 
ended  the  argument.  We  said  our  evening  prayers,  had  a glass 
of  wine,  and  my  wife  brings  the  fish  to  the  table.  My  guest’s 
nostrils  swell  out,  a new  light  shines  in  his  eyes  and  he  goes 
after  that  fish  as  if  he  hadn’t  eaten  a thing  all  day.  He  can’t 
get  over  it.  He  praises  it  to  the  skies.  He  fills  a glass  with 
brandy  and  drinks  a toast  to  the  fish.  And  then  comes  the 
soup,  a specially  rich  Sabbath  soup  with  noodles.  And  he 
likes  that,  too,  and  the  tzimmes  also,  and  the  meat  that  goes 
with  the  tzimmes,  a nice,  fat  piece  of  brisket.  I’m  telling  you, 
he  just  sat  there  licking  his  fingers!  When  we’re  finishing  the 



last  course  he  turns  to  me:  “Do  you  know  what  I’ll  tell  you? 
Now  that  it’s  all  over,  I’m  really  glad  that  I stayed  over  for 
Shabbes.  It’s  been  a long  time  since  I’ve  enjoyed  a Sabbath  as 
I’ve  enjoyed  this  one.”  “If  that’s  how  you  feel,  I’m  happy,”  I 
tell  him.  “But  wait.  This  is  only  a sample.  Wait  till  tomorrow. 
Then  you’ll  see  what  my  wife  can  do.” 

And  so  it  was.  The  next  day,  after  services,  we  sit  down  at 
the  table.  Well,  you  should  have  seen  the  spread.  First  the  ap- 
petizers: crisp  wafers  and  chopped  herring,  and  onions  and 
chicken  fat,  with  radishes  and  chopped  liver  and  eggs  and 
gribbenes.  And  after  that  the  cold  fish  and  the  meat  from 
yesterday’s  tzimmes,  and  then  the  jellied  neat’s  foot,  or 
fisnoga  as  you  call  it,  with  thin  slices  of  garlic,  and  after  that 
the  potato  cholent  with  the  kugel  that  had  been  in  the  oven 
all  night — and  you  know  what  that  smells  like  when  you  take 
it  out  of  the  oven  and  take  the  cover  off  the  pot.  And  what  it 
tastes  like.  Our  visitor  could  not  find  words  to  praise  it.  So  I 
tell  him:  “This  is  still  nothing.  Wait  until  you  have  tasted  our 
borsht  tonight,  then  you’ll  know  what  good  food  is.”  At  that 
he  laughs  out  loud — a friendly  laugh,  it  is  true — and  says  to 
me:  “Yes,  but  how  far  do  you  think  I’ll  be  from  here  by  the 
time  your  borsht  is  ready?”  So  I laugh  even  louder  than  he 
does,  and  say:  “You  can  forget  that  right  now!  Do  you  think 
you’ll  be  going  off  tonight?” 

And  so  it  was.  As  soon  as  the  lights  were  lit  and  we  had  a 
glass  of  wine  to  start  off  the  new  week,  my  friend  begins  to 
pack  his  things  again.  So  I call  out  to  him:  “Are  you  crazy? 
Do  you  think  we’ll  let  you  go  off,  the  Lord  knows  where,  at 
night?  And  besides,  where’s  your  train?”  “What?”  he  yells  at 
me.  “No  train?  Why,  you’re  murdering  me!  You  know  I have 
to  leave!”  But  I say,  “May  this  be  the  greatest  misfortune  in 
your  life.  Your  train  will  come,  if  all  is  well,  around  dawn  to- 
morrow. In  the  meantime  I hope  your  appetite  and  digestion 
are  good,  because  I can  smell  the  borsht  already!  All  I ask,”  I 
say,  “is  just  tell  me  the  truth.  Tell  me  if  you’ve  ever  touched 
a borsht  like  this  before.  But  I want  the  absolute  truth!” 
What’s  the  use  of  talking — he  had  to  admit  it:  never  before 
in  all  his  life  had  he  tasted  a borsht  like  this.  Never.  He  even 
started  to  ask  how  you  made  the  borsht,  what  you  put  into  it, 
and  how  long  you  cooked  it.  Everything.  And  I say:  “Don’t 
worry  about  that!  Here,  taste  this  wine  and  tell  me  what  you 
think  of  it.  After  all,  you’re  an  expert.  But  the  truth!  Remem- 



ber — nothing  but  the  truth!  Because  if  there  is  anything  I 
hate,  it’s  flattery . . 

So  we  took  a glass,  and  then  another  glass,  and  we  went  to 
bed.  And  what  do  you  think  happened?  My  traveler 
overslept,  and  missed  the  early  morning  train.  When  he 
wakes  up  he  boils  over!  He  jumps  on  me  like  a murderer. 
Wasn’t  it  up  to  me,  out  of  fairness  and  decency,  to  wake  him 
up  in  time?  Because  of  me  he’s  going  to  have  to  take  a loss,  a 
heavy  loss — he  doesn’t  even  know  himself  how  heavy.  It  was 
all  my  fault.  I ruined  him.  I!  ...  So  I let  him  talk.  I listen, 
quietly,  and  when  he’s  all  through,  I say:  “Tell  me  yourself, 
aren’t  you  a queer  sort  of  person?  In  the  first  place,  what’s 
your  hurry?  What  are  you  rushing  for?  How  long  is  a per- 
son’s life  altogether?  Does  he  have  to  spoil  that  little  with 
rushing  and  hurrying?  And  in  the  second  place,  have  you  for- 
gotten that  today  is  the  third  day  since  the  brisl  Doesn’t  that 
mean  a thing  to  you?  Where  we  come  from,  on  the  third  day 
we’re  in  the  habit  of  putting  on  a feast  better  than  the  one  at 
the  bris  itself.  The  third  day — it’s  something  to  celebrate! 
You’re  not  going  to  spoil  the  celebration,  are  you?” 

What  can  he  do?  He  can’t  control  himself  any  more,  and 
he  starts  laughing — a hysterical  laugh.  “What  good  does  it  do 
to  talk?”  he  says.  “You’re  a real  leech!”  “lust  as  you  say,”  I 
tell  him,  “but  after  all,  you’re  a visitor,  aren’t  you?” 

At  the  dinner  table,  after  we’ve  had  a drink  or  two,  I call 
out  to  him:  “Look,”  I say,  “it  may  not  be  proper — after  all, 
we’re  Jews — to  talk  about  milk  and  such  things  while  we’re 
eating  meat,  but  I’d  like  to  know  your  honest  opinion:  what 
do  you  think  of  kreplach  with  cheese?”  He  looks  at  me  with 
distrust.  “How  did  we  get  around  to  that?”  he  asks.  “Just  like 
this,”  I explain  to  him.  “I’d  like  to  have  you  try  the  cheese 
kreplach  that  my  wife  makes — because  tonight,  you  see, 
we’re  going  to  have  a dairy  supper  . . .”  This  is  too  much  for 
him,  and  he  comes  right  back  at  me  with,  “Not  this  time! 
You’re  trying  to  keep  me  here  another  day,  I can  see  that. 
But  you  can’t  do  it.  It  isn’t  right!  It  isn’t  right!”  And  from  the 
way  he  fusses  and  fumes  it’s  easy  to  see  that  I won’t  have  to 
coax  him  too  long,  or  fight  with  him  either,  because  what  is 
he  but  a man  with  an  appetite,  who  has  only  one  philosophy, 
which  he  practices  at  the  table?  So  I say  this  to  him:  “I  give 
you  my  word  of  honor,  and  if  that  isn’t  enough,  I’ll  give  you 
my  hand  as  well — here,  shake — that  tomorrow  I’ll  wake  you 
up  in  time  for  the  earliest  train.  I promise  it,  even  if  the 



world  turns  upside  down.  If  I don’t,  may  I — you  know 
what!”  At  this  he  softens  and  says  to  me:  “Remember,  we’re 
shaking  hands  on  that!”  And  I:  “A  promise  is  a promise.” 
And  my  wife  makes  a dairy  supper — how  can  I describe  it  to 
you?  With  such  kreplach  that  my  traveler  has  to  admit  that  it 
was  all  true:  he  has  a wife  too,  and  she  makes  kreplach  too, 
but  how  can  you  compare  hers  with  these?  It’s  like  night  and 

And  I kept  my  word,  because  a promise  is  a promise.  I 
woke  him  when  it  was  still  dark,  and  started  the  samovar.  He 
finished  packing  and  began  to  say  goodbye  to  me  and  the  rest 
of  the  household  in  a very  handsome,  friendly  style.  You 
could  see  he  was  a gentleman.  But  I interrupt  him:  “We’ll 
say  goodbye  a little  later.  First,  we  have  to  settle  up.”  “What 
do  you  mean — settle  up?”  “Settle  up,”  I say,  “means  to  add 
up  the  figures.  That’s  what  I’m  going  to  do  now.  I’ll  add  them 
up,  let  you  know  what  it  comes  to,  and  you  will  be  so  kind  as 
to  pay  me.” 

His  face  flames  red.  “Pay  you?”  he  shouts.  “Pay  you  for 
what?”  “For  what?”  I repeat.  “You  want  to  know  for  what? 
For  everything.  The  food,  the  drink,  the  lodging.”  This  time 
he  becomes  white — not  red — and  he  says  to  me:  “I  don’t  un- 
derstand you  at  all.  You  came  and  invited  me  to  the  bris. 
You  stopped  me  at  the  train.  You  took  my  bag  away  from 
me.  You  promised  me  eternal  life.”  “That’s  right,”  I inter- 
rupt him.  “That’s  right.  But  what’s  one  thing  got  to  do  with 
the  other?  When  you  came  to  the  bris  you  earned  your  re- 
ward in  heaven.  But  food  and  drink  and  lodging — do  I have 
to  give  you  these  things  for  nothing?  After  all,  you’re  a 
businessman,  aren’t  you?  You  should  understand  that  fish 
costs  money,  and  that  the  wine  you  drank  was  the  very  best, 
and  the  beer,  too,  and  the  cherry  cider.  And  you  remember 
how  you  praised  the  tzimmes  and  the  puddings  and  the 
borsht.  You  remember  how  you  licked  your  fingers.  And  the 
cheese  kreplach  smelled  pretty  good  to  you,  too.  Now,  I’m 
glad  you  enjoyed  these  things:  I don’t  begrudge  you  that  in 
the  least.  But  certainly  you  wouldn’t  expect  that  just  because 
you  earned  a reward  in  heaven,  and  enjoyed  yourself  in  the 
bargain,  that  / should  pay  for  it?”  My  traveling  friepd  was 
really  sweating;  he  looked  as  if  he’d  have  a stroke.  He  began 
to  throw  himself  around,  yell,  scream,  call  for  help.  “This  is 
Sodom!”  he  cried.  “Worse  than  Sodom!  It’s  the  worst  outrage 
the  world  has  ever  heard  of!  How  much  do  you  want?” 



Calmly  I took  a piece  of  paper  and  a pencil  and  began  to 
add  it  up.  I itemized  everything,  I gave  him  an  inventory  of 
everything  he  ate,  of  every  hour  he  spent  in  my  place.  All  in 
all  it  added  up  to  something  like  thirty-odd  rubles  and  some 
kopeks — I don’t  remember  it  exactly. 

When  he  saw  the  total,  my  good  man  went  green  and  yel- 
low, his  hands  shook,  and  his  eyes  almost  popped  out,  and 
again  he  let  out  a yell,  louder  than  before.  “What  did  I fall 
into— a nest  of  thieves?  Isn’t  there  a single  human  being 
here?  Is  there  a God  anywhere?”  So  I say  to  him,  “Look,  sir, 
do  you  know  what?  Do  you  know  what  you’re  yelling  about? 
Do  you  have  to  eat  your  heart  out?  Here  is  my  suggestion: 
let’s  ride  into  town  together — it’s  not  far  from  here — and 
we’ll  find  some  people — there’s  a rabbiner  there — let’s  ask  the 
rabbi.  And  we’ll  abide  by  what  he  says.”  When  he  heard  me 
talk  like  that,  he  quieted  down  a little.  And — don’t  worry — 
we  hired  a horse  and  wagon,  climbed  in,  and  rode  off  to 
town,  the  two  of  us,  and  went  straight  to  the  rabbi. 

When  we  got  to  the  rabbi’s  house,  we  found  him  just  fin- 
ishing his  morning  prayers.  He  folded  up  his  prayer  shawl 
and  put  his  phylacteries  away.  “Good  morning,”  we  said  to 
him,  and  he:  “What’s  the  news  today?”  The  news?  My  friend 
tears  loose  and  lets  him  have  the  whole  story — everything 
from  A to  Z.  He  doesn’t  leave  a word  out.  He  tells  how  he 
stopped  at  the  station,  and  so  on  and  so  on,  and  when  he’s 
through  he  whips  out  the  bill  I had  given  him  and  hands  it  to 
the  rabbi.  And  when  the  rabbi  had  heard  everything,  he  says: 
“Having  heard  one  side  I should  now  like  to  hear  the  other.” 
And  turning  to  me,  he  asks,  “What  do  you  have  to  say  to  all 
that?*’  I answer:  “Everything  he  says  is  true.  There’s  not  a 
word  I can  add.  Only  one  thing  I’d  like  to  have  him  tell 
you — on  his  word  of  honor:  did  he  eat  the  fish,  and  did  he 
drink  the  beer  and  cognac  and  the  cider,  and  did  he  smack 
his  lips  over  the  borsht  that  my  wife  made?”  At  this  the  man 
becomes  almost  frantic,  he  jumps  and  he  thrashes  about  like 
an  apoplectic.  The  rabbi  begs  him  not  to  boil  like  that,  not  to 
be  so  angry,  because  anger  is  a grave  sin.  And  he  asks  him 
again  about  the  fish  and  the  borsht  and  the  kreplach,  and  if  it 
was  true  that  he  had  drunk  not  only  the  wine,  but  beer  and 
cognac  and  cider  as  well.  Then  the  rabbi  puts  on  his  specta- 
cles, looks  the  bill  over  from  top  to  bottom,  checks  every 
line,  and  finds  it  correct!  Thirty-odd  rubles  and  some  kopeks, 
and  he  makes  his  judgment  brief:  he  tells  the  man  to  pay 


the  human  comedy 

the  whole  thing,  and  for  the  wagon  back  and  forth,  and  a 
judgment  fee  for  the  rabbi  himself 

The  man  stumbles  out  of  the  rabbi’s  house  looking  as  if 
he  d been  in  a steam  bath  too  long,  takes  out  his  purse,  pulls 
out  two  twenty-fives  and  snaps  at  me:  “Give  me  the  change.” 
“What  change?”  I ask,  and  he  says:  “For  the  thirty  you 
charged  me — for  that  bill  you  gave  me.”  “Bill?  What  bill? 
What  thirty  are  you  talking  about?  What  do  you  think  I am, 
a highwayman?  Do  you  expect  me  to  take  money  from  you? 
I see  a man  at  the  railroad  station,  a total  stranger;  I take  his 
bag  away  from  him,  and  drag  him  off  almost  by  force  to  our 
ovra  bris,  and  spend  a wonderful  Shabbes  with  him.  So  am  I 
going  to  charge  him  for  the  favor  he  did  me,  and  for  the 
pleasure  I had?”  Now  he  looks  at  me  as  if  I really  am  crazy, 
and  says:  “Then  why  did  you  carry  on  like  this?  Why  did 
you  drag  me  to  the  rabbi?”  “Why  this?  Why  that?”  I say  to 
him.  “You’re  a queer  sort  of  person,  you  are!  I wanted  to 
show  you  what  kind  of  man  our  rabbi  was,  that’s  all . . 

When  he  finished  the  story,  my  litigant,  Reb  Nachman 
Lekach,  got  up  with  a flourish,  and  the  other  three  partners 
followed  him.  They  buttoned  their  coats  and  prepared  to 
leave.  But  I held  them  off.  I passed  the  cigarettes  around 
again,  and  said  to  the  story-teller: 

So  you  told  me  a story  about  a rabbi.  Now  maybe  you’ll 
be  so  kind  as  to  let  me  tell  you  a story — also  about  a rabbi, 
but  a much  shorter  story  than  the  one  you  told.” 

And  without  waiting  for  a yes  or  no,  I started  right  in,  and 
made  it  brief: 

This  happened,  I began,  not  so  long  ago,  and  in  a large 
city,  on  Yom  Kippur  eve.  A stranger  falls  into  the  town — a 
businessman,  a traveler,  who  goes  here  and  there,  every- 
where, sells  merchandise,  collects  money  ...  On  this  day  he 
comes  into  the  city,  walks  up  and  down  in  front  of  the 
synagogue,  holding  his  sides  with  both  hands,  asks  everybody 
he  sees  where  he  can  find  the  rabbi.  “What  do  you  want  the 
rabbi  for?”  people  ask.  “What  business  is  that  of  yours?”  he 
wants  to  know.  So  they  don’t  tell  him.  And  he  asks  one  man, 
he  asks  another:  “Can  you  tell  me  where  the  rabbi  lives?” 
“What  do  you  want  the  rabbi  for?”  “What  do  you  care?” 
This  one  and  that  one,  till  finally  he  gets  the  answer,  finds  the 
rabbi’s  house,  goes  in,  still  holding  his  sides  with  both  hands. 



He  calls  the  rabbi  aside,  shuts  the  door,  and  says,  “Rabbi,  this 
is  my  story.  I am  a traveling  man,  and  I have  money  with 
me,  quite  a pile.  It’s  not  my  money.  It  belongs  to  my 
clients — first  to  God  and  then  to  my  clients.  It’s  Yom  Kippur 
eve.  I can’t  carry  money  with  me  on  Yom  Kippur,  and  I’m 
afraid  to  leave  it  at  my  lodgings.  A sum  like  that!  So  do  me  a 
favor — take  it,  put  it  away  in  your  strong  box  till  tomorrow 
night,  after  Yom  Kippur.” 

And  without  waiting,  the  man  unbuttons  his  vest  and 
draws  out  one  pack  after  another,  crisp  and  clean,  the  real 
red,  crackling,  hundred  ruble  notes! 

Seeing  how  much  there  was,  the  rabbi  said  to  him:  “I  beg 
your  pardon.  You  don’t  know  me,  you  don’t  know  who  I 
am.”  “What  do  you  mean,  I don’t  know  who  you  are?  You’re 
a rabbi,  aren’t  you?”  “Yes,  I’m  a rabbi.  But  I don’t  know 
you — who  you  are  or  what  you  are.”  They  bargain  back  and 
forth.  The  traveler:  “You’re  a rabbi.”  The  rabbi:  “I  don’t 
know  who  you  are.”  And  time  does  not  stand  still.  It’s  almost 
Yom  Kippur ! Finally  the  rabbi  agrees  to  take  the  money.  The 
only  thing  is,  who  should  be  the  witnesses?  You  can’t  trust 
just  anyone  in  a matter  like  that. 

So  the  rabbi  sends  for  the  leading  townspeople,  the  very 
cream,  rich  and  respectable  citizens,  and  says  to  them:  “This 
is  what  I called  you  for.  This  man  has  money  with  him,  a 
tidy  sum,  not  his  own,  but  first  God’s  and  then  his  clients’. 
He  wants  me  to  keep  it  for  him  till  after  Yom  Kippur.  There- 
fore I want  you  to  be  witnesses,  to  see  how  much  he  leaves 
with  me,  so  that  later — you  understand?”  And  the  rabbi  took 
the  trouble  to  count  it  all  over  three  times  before  the  eyes  of 
the  townspeople,  wrapped  the  notes  in  a kerchief,  sealed 
the  kerchief  with  wax,  and  stamped  his  initials  on  the  seal. 
He  passed  this  from  one  man  to  the  other,  saying,  “Now 
look.  Here  is  my  signature,  and  remember,  you’re  the 
witnesses.”  The  kerchief  with  the  money  in  it  he  handed  over 
to  his  wife,  had  her  lock  it  in  a chest,  and  hide  the  keys 
where  no  one  could  find  them.  And  he  himself,  the  rabbi, 
went  to  shut,  and  prayed  and  fasted  as  it  was  ordained,  lived 
through  Yom  Kippur,  came  home,  had  a bite  to  eat,  looked 
up,  and  there  was  the  traveler.  “Good  evening,  Rabbi.” 
“Good  evening.  Sit  down.  What  can  I do  for  you?” 
“Nothing.  I came  for  my  package.”  “What  package?”  “The 
money.”  “What  money?”  “The  money  I left  with  you  to  keep 



for  me.”  “You  gave  me  money  to  keep  for  you?  When  was 

The  traveler  laughs  out  loud.  He  thinks  the  rabbi  is  joking 
with  him.  The  rabbi  asks:  “What  are  you  laughing  at?”  And 
the  man  says:  “It’s  the  first  time  I met  a rabbi  who  liked  to 
play  tricks.”  At  this  the  rabbi  is  insulted.  No  one,  he  pointed 
out,  had  ever  called  him  a trickster  before.  “Tell  me,  my 
good  man,  what  do  you  want  here?” 

When  he  heard  these  words,  the  stranger  felt  his  heart  stop. 
“Why,  Rabbi,  in  the  name  of  all  that’s  holy,  do  you  want  to 
kill  me?  Didn’t  I give  you  all  my  money?  That  is,  not  mine, 
but  first  God’s  and  then  my  clients’?  I’ll  remind  you,  you 
wrapped  it  in  a kerchief,  sealed  it  with  wax,  locked  it  in  your 
wife’s  chest,  hid  the  key  where  no  one  could  find  it.  And  here 
is  better  proof:  there  were  witnesses,  the  leading  citizens  of 
the  city!”  And  he  goes  ahead  and  calls  them  all  off  by  name. 
In  the  midst  of  it  a cold  sweat  breaks  out  on  his  forehead,  he 
feels  faint,  and  asks  for  a glass  of  water. 

The  rabbi  sends  the  shammes  off  to  the  men  the  traveler 
had  named — the  leading  citizens,  the  flower  of  the  commu- 
nity. They  come  running  from  all  directions.  “What’s  the 
matter?  What  happened?”  “A  misfortune.  A plot!  A millstone 
around  our  necks  I He  insists  that  he  brought  a pile  of  money 
to  me  yesterday,  to  keep  over  Yom  Kip  pur,  and  that  you 
were  witnesses  to  the  act.” 

The  householders  look  at  each  other,  as  if  to  say:  “Here  is 
where  we  get  a nice  bone  to  lick!”  And  they  fall  on  the  trav- 
eler: how  could  he  do  a thing  like  that?  He  ought  to  be 
ashamed  of  himself!  Thinking  up  an  ugly  plot  like  that 
against  our  rabbil 

When  he  saw  what  was  happening,  his  arms  and  legs  went 
limp,  he  just  about  fainted.  But  the  rabbi  got  up,  went  to  the 
chest,  took  out  the  kerchief  and  handed  it  to  him. 

“What’s  the  matter  with  you!  Here!  Here  is  your  money! 
Take  it  and  count  it,  see  if  it’s  right,  here  in  front  of  your 
witnesses.  The  seal,  as  you  see,  is  untouched.  The  wax  is 
whole,  just  as  it  ought  to  be.” 

The  traveler  felt  as  if  a new  soul  had  been  installed  in  his 
body.  His  hands  trembled  and  tears  stood  in  his  eyes. 

“Why  did  you  have  to  do  it,  Rabbi?  Why  did  you  have  to 
play  this  trick  on  me?  A trick  like  this.” 

“I  just  wanted  to  show  you — the  kind — of — leading  cit- 
izens— we  have  in  our  town.” 



The  Jew  and  the  Caliph 

Once  there  was  a Caliph  of  Arabia  who  hated  Jews.  So  he  is- 
sued the  following  decree:  “Every  Jew  who  enters  my  king- 
dom must  be  halted  by  the  guards  and  ordered  to  tell 
something  about  himself.  If  he  lies — he  is  to  be  shot.  If  he 
tells  the  truth — he  is  to  be  hanged.” 

By  this  stratagem  the  Caliph  hoped  to  exterminate  all  the 
Jews  in  Arabia. 

One  day  a Jew  came.  When  the  Caliph’s  servants  com- 
manded him  to  tell  something  about  himself  he  said,  “I  am 
going  to  be  shot  today.” 

The  guards  were  confused  by  his  words,  so  they  brought 
the  matter  to  their  royal  master’s  attention. 

“H-m-m!”  cogitated  the  wily  Caliph.  “This  is  indeed  a diffi- 
cult matter!  If  I were  to  shoot  the  Jew  it  would  imply  that  he 
told  the  truth.  In  that  case  the  law  is  that  he  should  be 
hanged;  so  I cannot  shoot  him.  On  the  other  hand,  if  I had 
him  hanged  it  would  imply  that  he  told  a lie,  and  for  that  the 
law  provides  shooting;  so  I cannot  hang  him.” 

And  so  they  let  the  Jew  go. 

You’re  as  Old  as  You  Feel 

A forty-year-old  man  married  a girl  of  twenty.  It  caused  a 
sensation  in  their  social  circle.  Once,  when  someone  indeli- 
cately referred  to  the  difference  in  their  ages,  he  replied,  “It’s 
really  not  so  bad.  When  she  looks  at  me  she  feels  ten  years 
older,  and  when  I look  at  her  I feel  ten  years  younger.  So 
what’s  wrong — we’re  both  thirty!” 

Mazel  Tovl 

“I  have  come  to  report,”  said  Tevye  the  carpenter  to  the 
secretary  of  the  burial  society,  “that  my  wife  has  died,  and  I 
wish  the  sum  required  for  her  burial.” 

“But  how  can  that  be?”  asked  the  official.  “We  buried 
your  wife  two  years  ago.” 

“Oh,  that  was  my  first  wife,”  said  Tevye,  “and  now  my 
second  wife,  too,  has  died.” 

“Excuse  me,”  said  the  secretary,  “I  didn’t  know  you  had 
remarried.  Mazel  tovl” 



Wrong  Order 

On  an  unbearably  hot  day,  at  the  very  door  of  a soda 
fountain,  an  elderly  Jew  fainted  away. 

People  rushed  to  his  side  crying,  “Water!  Water!  A man 
has  fainted!  Water!” 

Feebly  the  old  man  raised  his  head,  and  corrected  the 
bystanders:  “A  malted!” 

The  Foresighted  Traveller 

A weary  traveller,  alone  in  a train  compartment  enjoying  a 
few  hours  of  relaxation,  was  accosted  by  a stranger  with  the 
customary  “Sholom  aleichem.” 

Instead  of  the  usual  “ Aleichem  sholom,”  in  reply,  this  trav- 
eller sat  up  and  began  wearily:  “Listen  closely,  my  friend. 
I’m  from  Byalistok,  and  I’m  on  my  way  to  Warsaw.  I’m  in 
the  wholesale  grocery  business,  but  it’s  really,  I assure  you,  a 
small  business.  My  last  name  is  Cohen.  My  first  name  is 
Moishe.  I have  one  son,  about  to  be  Bar  Mitzvah,  and  two 
daughters,  both  lovely,  one  married  and  the  other  engaged  to 
be  married.  I don’t  smoke,  I don’t  drink,  I have  no  hobbies, 
and  I stay  out  of  politics.  I hope  I haven’t  forgotten  anything 
but  if  I have,  please  don’t  stand  on  ceremony.  Ask  me  now, 
because  I’m  dead  tired  and  I’m  going  to  take  a nap!” 

Dramatic  Criticism 

Mrs.  Goldstein  could  never  induce  her  husband  to  enter  a 

He  had  an  excuse  always  for  staying  home,  or  for  joining 
his  cronies  at  gin  rummy  or  pinochle. 

But  at  last  Mrs.  Goldstein’s  patience  was  exhausted.  “This 
time,”  she  proclaimed,  “you  go  with  me,  or  I’ll  give  you  rea- 
son to  regret  it.” 

So  Mr.  Goldstein  permitted  himself  to  be  dragged  to  the 
drama.  He  squirmed  and  fidgeted  through  the  evening,  while 
his  wife  responded  appropriately  to  the  play. 

“What  do  you  say  now?”  she  asked,  triumphantly,  when 
the  lights  went  up. 

“It  stinks,”  was  the  laconic  reply. 

“What  do  you  mean  it  stinks?”  she  asked. 

“I’ll  tell  you,”  said  Mr.  Goldstein,  disgust  finally  breaking 
through  his  restraint.  “In  the  theatre  it’s  always  the  same — a 



man  and  a woman  ...  Now  when  he  wants,  she  doesn’t 
want  . . . And  when  she  wants,  he  doesn’t  want  . . . 
And  when  they  both  want,  down  comes  the  curtain!” 

Why  Noodles  Are  Noodles 

Once,  someone  asked  Motke  Chabad,  the  wag,  “Tell  me, 
Motke,  you’re  a smart  fellow — why  do  they  call  noodles 

Motke  answered  without  hesitation,  “What  a question  to 
ask!  They’re  long  like  noodles,  aren’t  they?  They’re  soft  like 
noodles,  aren’t  they?  And  they  taste  like  noodles,  don’t  they? 
So  why  shouldn’t  they  be  called  noodles?” 

The  Big  Blow 

Froyim  Greidinger,  the  Galician  prankster,  was  on  his  way 
home  one  Friday  night.  It  was  past  midnight  when  he  passed 
the  house  of  his  pious  grandparents.  To  his  surprise  he  saw 
that  they  were  still  up,  the  Sabbath  candles  burning  brightly, 
so  he  went  in. 

“Why  aren’t  you  sleeping?”  he  asked.  “It’s  past  midnight.” 
His  grandparents  looked  dejected. 

“We  can’t  go  to  sleep  on  account  of  the  candles,”  his 
grandfather  explained.  “If  we  let  them  bum  themselves  out 
the  house  may  catch  fire,  and  we  can’t  snuff  them  out  be- 
cause it’s  the  holy  Sabbath.  Nor  is  there  a peasant  around  to 
blow  them  out.” 

For  a moment  Froyim  was  lost  in  thought. 

‘Tell  me,  grandpa,  when  is  PurimT’  asked  Froyim,  stand- 
ing in  front  of  one  of  the  candles. 

He  spoke  in  a very  loud  voice  and  when  he  came  to  the 
letter  P in  Purim  he  puffed  out  his  cheeks  and  bellowed.  The 
candle  went  out  instantly. 

Then,  standing  in  front  of  the  second  candle,  Froyim 
asked,  “And  when  is  Passover?” 

When  he  came  to  the  letter  P in  Passover  he  again  puffed 
out  his  cheeks  and  bellowed.  The  second  candle  also  went 
out.  Then  turning  with  a grin  to  his  grandparents,  Froyim 
said,  “Now  you  can  go  to  bed.  Thank  God  none  of  us  had  to 
violate  the  Sabbath!” 


The  Sacrifice  Was  Too  Great 

Froyim  Greidinger  went  into  an  inn  and  ordered  supper. 
When  the  meat  course  was  put  before  him  he  saw  a tiny  bit 
of  roast.  At  this  he  burst  into  loud  wailing.  The  startled  inn- 
keeper ran  up  to  him  and  cried,  “What  is  it — what  has  hap- 

“Happened!”  wept  Froyim.  “To  think  that  just  because  of 
this  little  morsel  of  meat  a great  big  ox  had  to  be  killedl” 

HersheYs  Conflict 

Once,  on  a Thursday,  Hershel  Ostropolier  came  to  his  rabbi 
to  ask  from  him  money  for  the  Sabbath.  It  had  been  defi- 
nitely agreed  that  the  rabbi  was  to  pay  him  weekly  wages. 
Had  he  not  imported  Hershel  from  Ostropolia  to  Miedziboz 
to  serve  as  his  jester  in  order  to  help  him  drive  away  his  de- 
pression? But  the  rabbi,  who  was  ill-natured  and  tight-fisted, 
was  reluctant  to  pay  him  his  wages.  Hershel  had  to  resort  to 
all  kinds  of  stratagems  to  collect  from  him.  Many  a time,  he 
and  his  wife  and  children  were  forced  to  go  hungry,  did  not 
have  the  wherewithal  to  observe  the  Sabbath  with  decency. 

“What  do  you  think — money  grows  on  trees?”  the  rabbi 
said  at  first.  Afterwards,  when  he  saw  that  Hershel  was  deter- 
mined, he  put  on  a cheerful  face  and  said  to  him,  “If  you’ll 
tell  me  a good  story  I’ll  try  and  find  for  you  a couple  of  gul- 
den to  buy  food  for  the  Sabbath.” 

Hershel  almost  burned  up  on  hearing  these  words.  He 
lusted  for  revenge!  He  thought  the  matter  over  and  finally 
told  the  rabbi  the  following  story: 

‘Two  weeks  ago,  not  having  any  money  with  which  to  buy 
food  for  the  Sabbath,  I began  to  worry.  From  whence  will 
come  my  aid?  And  as  I walked  along  the  deserted  road  I sud- 
denly saw  rising  before  me,  right  out  of  the  ground,  the  Evil 
Spirit  himself! 

“ ‘Why  do  you  look  so  worried,  Hershel?’  he  asked  me. 

“ ‘Why  should  I be  jolly?’  I replied.  ‘It’s  Thursday  already 
and  my  wife  hasn’t  a broken  kopek  to  go  to  market  with.’ 

“When  the  Evil  Spirit  heard  this  he  laughed. 

“ ‘What  a fool!’  he  leered  at  me.  ‘Why  don’t  you  go  to  the 



rabbi’s  house  and,  when  no  one  is  looking,  steal  from  his 
table  a silver  spoon  so  you’ll  spend  a nice  Sabbath?* 

“So  I did  as  he  said.  And  believe  me,  I had  a pleasant  Sab- 
bath! A week  ago  Thursday  I again  didn’t  have  anything  for 
the  Sabbath.  Again  I decided  to  go  to  the  rabbi’s  house  for  a 
silver  spoon.  But  on  the  way  there,  I met  with  the  Good 
Spirit  who  buttonholed  me. 

“ ‘Where  is  a Jew  going,  Hershel?’  he  asked. 

“I  cringed. 

‘“I’m  on  my  way  to  the  rabbi’s  house  to  steal  a silver 
spoon  so  that  I’ll  be  able  to  buy  food  for  the  Sabbath,’  I re- 

“Hearing  this,  the  Good  Spirit  began  to  preach  at  me. 

“ ‘How  can  you  do  such  an  awful  thing,  Hershel?’  he  de- 
manded. “The  very  idea  should  make  you  tremble  like  a leaf! 
Surely,  a man  of  your  learning  knows  the  difference  between 
good  and  evil!  It  is  specifically  mentioned  in  the  Ten  Com- 
mandments: ‘Thou  shalt  not  steal.’ 

“ ‘Nonsense!’  I replied.  ‘Granted  I do  know  that  to  steal  a 
silver  spoon  from  the  rabbi  is  a sin,  but  what  can  I do  when 
the  rabbi,  who  employs  me  as  his  jester,  doesn’t  pay  me  my 
weekly  wages?’ 

“ ‘Follow  my  advice,’  said  the  Good  Spirit,  ‘don’t  steal  and 
God  will  surely  come  to  your  aid.’ 

“Believe  me,  Rabbi,  the  Good  Spirit  stuck  to  me  like  a leech 
and  wouldn’t  let  go  of  me  until  I agreed  to  follow  his  advice. 

I returned  to  my  shanty  and  observed  the  Sabbath  in  a way, 
may  it  not  be  said  of  my  worst  enemy,  O Lord! 

“Now,  Rabbi,  today  is  again  Thursday  and,  as  usual,  I ex- 
pect to  get  no  money  from  you,  so  my  Sabbath  will  again  be 
ruined.  I walked  about  racking  my  poor  brains — whose  ad- 
vice should  I follow — that  of  the  Good  Spirit,  or  that  of  the 
Evil  Spirit?  And,  as  I was  struggling  within  myself,  who 
should  appear  if  not  the  Good  Spirit! 

“ ‘You  see,  Hershel!’  he  cried,  triumphantly.  ‘A  man  has 
got  to  be  honest!  You  saw  for  yourself  how  it  was  possible 
for  you  to  celebrate  the  Sabbath  without  wicked  thievery!’ 

“ ‘Indeed  I did,’  I answered  him  tartly.  ‘And  what  a 
wretched  Sabbath  it  was  too!  My  family  and  I were  so 
famished  we  were  almost  ready  to  collapse,  although  it  was 
hardly  a hair’s  difference  from  what  we  usually  feel  every 
day  in  the  week.  No,  my  good  brother,  rest  assured  I shan’t 



repeat  that  mistake  twice.  This  coming  week,  praise  God,  I’ll 
again  follow  the  Evil  Spirit’s  advice!’ 

“The  Good  Spirit  almost  jumped  out  of  his  shoes. 

“ ‘Once  and  for  all,  Hershel,  don’t  you  dare  steal!’  he  cried. 

“That,  Rabbi,  was  about  the  last  straw!  I was  going  to 
show  him  op,  so  I said  to  the  Good  Spirit,  ‘If  you  are  such  a 
saint,  why  don’t  you  go  to  the  Rabbi  and  tell  him  he  should 
pay  me  my  wages  so  I can  celebrate  God’s  Sabbath  together 
with  all  other  Jews?’ 

“So  what  do  you  think  the  Good  Spirit  answered? 

“ ‘Believe  me,  Hershel,’  he  assured  me  with  tears  in  his 
eyes.  ‘Gladly  would  I do  you  this  little  favor,  but  I swear  be- 
fore God  that  I don’t  know  the  rabbi  at  all.  In  fact,  I’ve 
never  even  crossed  his  threshold  in  all  these  many  years!’  ” 

HersheVs  Revenge  on  the  Women 

As  soon  as  Hershel  Ostropolier  went  to  serve  Rabbi  Boruch 
of  Miedziboz  as  his  jester,  he  met  with  a hostile  stare  from  the 
rabbi’s  wife.  She  found  all  sorts  of  petty  pretexts  to  abuse 
him.  Once,  when  he  tried  to  defend  himself,  she  turned  her 
back  on  him  insultingly  and  shut  him  up  with  the  retort, 
“Your  excuses  are  making  me  deaf — you’re  raising  such  a 
racket  with  them!” 

Hershel  smarted  under  the  abuse  and  lay  low.  Someday,  he 
vowed,  he’d  avenge  the  insult. 

Some  time  soon  after,  the  rabbi’s  wife  said  to  Hershel, 
“Send  your  wife  to  me;  it’s  high  time  we  got  to  know  each 

“With  pleasure,”  answered  Hershel  eagerly.  “She’ll  regard 
it  as  a very  great  honor,  believe  me.  But  I must  warn  you — 
may  it  not  happen  to  a dog — she’s  deaf  as  a wall!  If  you 
want  her  to  hear  you  you’ve  got  to  shout.” 

“I  understand,  I understand,”  the  rabbi’s  wife  assured  him 
commiseratingly.  “Never  fear.  I’ll  manage.  Just  have  her 
come  to  see  me.” 

When  Hershel  came  home  he  said  to  his  wife,  that  illustri- 
ous shrew,  “The  rabbi’s  wife  told  me  she  would  like  to  get  ac- 
quainted with  you.  But,  I’ve  got  to  warn  you  betimes:  she’s 
stone  deaf.  If  you  want  her  to  hear  you  you’ve  got  to  shout.” 

“I  understand,”  said  Hershel’s  wife  knowingly,  and  went  to 
see  the  rabbi’s  wife. 

When  the  two  women  met  they  both  began  to  shout  and 



scream  at  each  other,  ever  louder  and  louder.  Their  cries 
even  reached  into  the  rabbi’s  study  where  he  was  closeted 
with  his  disciples.  Frightened  out  of  his  wits,  the  rabbi  dashed 
into  his  wife’s  room,  the  disciples  close  at  his  heels.  What  the 
rabbi  saw  was  something  he  never  forgot.  Both  women  were 
at  the  point  of  collapse.  Their  voices  were  hoarse,  and  their 
cries  sounded  more  like  croaks. 

“What’s  the  meaning  of  this?”  cried  the  rabbi  in  astonish- 
ment. “Why  are  you  shouting  this  way?” 

“Hershel’s  wife  is  deaf,”  gasped  his  wife.  “I  had  to  yell  so 
she  could  hear  me.” 

“And  why  do  you  shout?”  asked  the  rabbi  of  Hershel’s 

“What  else  should  I do — your  wife  is  stone  deaf!”  croaked 
Hershel’s  wife,  her  tongue  hanging  out. 

“My  wife  stone  deaf?  You’re  crazy,  woman!”  cried  the 
rabbi,  beside  himself  with  rage.  “Who  told  you  that?” 

“Why  Hershel  did!” 

All  this  while  Hershel  stood  near  the  rabbi  enjoying  him- 
self tremendously. 

“Impudent  fellow!”  roared  the  rabbi.  “Explain  yourself  in- 
stantly. What  kind  of  a prank  is  this  anyway?” 

“I  am  innocent,  Rabbi,”  pleaded  Hershel. 

“All  right,  so  it’s  my  fault!”  said  the  rabbi  sarcastically. 

“Blame  your  wife,  Rabbi,”  urged  Hershel.  “The  other  day 
she  was  angry  at  me  for  some  reason.  I was  entirely  inno- 

Then,  addressing  the  rabbi’s  wife,  Hershel  continued,  “Do 
you  remember  that  when  I tried  to  explain  you  turned  your 
back  on  me  and  said:  ‘You’re  raising  such  a racket  with  your 
excuses  they’re  making  me  deaf!’  Well,  what  did  you  ex- 
pect— I shouldn’t  believe  you?  Why  should  I have  doubted 
you?  Also,  was  it  wrong  of  me  to  give  due  warning  to  my 
wife?  If  she  spoke  in  a low  voice  you  wouldn’t  have  heard  a 
thing.  Besides,  wouldn’t  it  have  been  highly  inconsiderate  of 
her  to  do  so?” 

“But  why  did  you  tell  me  your  wife  was  deaf?”  rasped  the 
rabbi’s  wife  in  a hoarse  voice. 

“What  a foolish  question!”  retorted  Hershel.  “Imagine,  if 
after  only  a few  months  I made  you  deaf  with  my  excuses, 
how  deaf  do  you  think  I’ve  made  my  wife  after  being  mar- 
ried twenty  years  to  her?  Don’t  either  of  you  say  I didn’t 
warn  you!” 




Hershel  Ostropolier  was  asked  once,  “Is  it  true,  Hershel, 
what  people  say — that  you  beat  your  wife  with  a stick  and 
she  clouts  you  over  the  head  with  a rolling-pin?” 

“That’s  not  altogether  true,”  answered  Hershel.  “Sometimes 
we  change  over.” 

How  Hershel  Almost  Became  a Bigamist 

Hershel  Ostropolier’s  wife  was  nagging  him  to  death. 

“You’re  a ne’er-do-well!”  she  cried.  “You’re  a schlimazl 
and  a fool,  only  you  think  you’re  smart.  If  you  didn’t  speak 
so  impudently  to  the  rabbi  and  to  the  gabbai  and  to  all  the 
rich  men  of  the  town  we  wouldn’t  be  so  badly  off.” 

When  Hershel  heard  this  he  grew  angry. 

“You’re  a nice  one  to  preach  at  me!”  he  said  bitterly. 
“Why  you’ve  caused  me  more  trouble  than  if  you  were  ten 
good-for-nothing  relatives!” 

“What  on  earth  are  you  jabbering  about?”  asked  his  wife. 
“Listen  to  this  story  and  you’ll  know,”  began  Hershel. 
“Years  ago,  when  I was  still  young  and  handsome,  shortly  af- 
ter we  had  married,  I was  making  a journey  on  foot.  I never 
was  more  tired  and  hungry  than  I was  that  day.  On  the  way  I 
met  another  poor  traveller. 

“ ‘Uncle,’  I asked  him,  ‘do  you  know  if  there’s  a Jewish  set- 
tlement nearby  where  some  kindhearted  person  will  take  pity 
on  a footsore  traveller  and  give  him  something  to  eat  and  a 
place  to  sleep?’ 

“ ‘Indeed  I do,’  replied  the  man.  ‘Not  far  from  here  lives  a 
Jewish  tenant-farmer.  He  is  stuffed  with  money  like  a Pass- 
over  goose,  but  he  won’t  give  a poor  man  a teaspoonful  of 
water.  The  only  person  welcome  in  his  house  is  a marriage- 
broker  because  his  daughter  is  an  ugly  old  maid,  and  he 
would  like  to  see  her  married  at  all  costs.’ 

“When  I heard  this  I went  to  call  on  the  miser.  I intro- 
duced myself,  not  as  a marriage-broker  but  as  a virtuous 
young  man  in  search  of  a bride.  Would  you  believe  it,  after 
being  wined  and  dined  in  his  house  for  several  days,  he  pro- 
posed that  I become  his  son-in-law! 

“To  make  a long  story  short,  I consented.” 

“You  miserable  wretch!”  interrupted  Hershel’s  wife.  “How 



could  you  have  done  a wicked  thing  like  that  with  me  being 
your  wife  then?” 

“Easy,  easy!”  cautioned  Hershel.  “Just  listen  patiently  to 
the  end  of  my  story. 

“A  day  was  fixed  for  the  wedding  to  take  place — in  several 
weeks.  In  the  meantime,  I lived  in  luxury,  tasted  everything 
from  honey  to  vinegar,  and,  when  the  wedding  day  arrived, 
there  was  nothing  left  to  do  but  to  break  down  and  tell  the 
truth.  So  I said  to  my  bride’s  father,  ‘Listen,  father  dear, 
since  today  is  my  wedding  day,  it  is  my  duty  to  tell  you  ev- 
erything about  my  family  so  that  later  on  you  shouldn’t  have 
any  grievances  against  me.’ 

“ ‘I  am  listening,’  he  said. 

“ ‘I  have  a brother,’  I began,  ‘and  he  is  an  immoral  fellow.’ 

“ ‘What  difference  does  it  make?’  he  answered,  cold-blood- 

“ ‘My  sister-in-law  is  unfaithful  to  her  husband.’ 

“ ‘If  your  brother  doesn’t  bother  me,  why  should  your  sis- 

“ ‘I  have  two  good-for-nothing  uncles.’ 

“ That  should  be  my  biggest  worry.' 

“ ‘I  have  a sister  and  she  has  an  illegitimate  child.’ 

“ ‘What?  An  illegitimate  child!  Bad,  bad!  But  what  can  we 
do  about  it?’ 

“ ‘I  assure  you  that  in  my  family  there  are  drunks,  card- 
players  and  libertines  without  number.’ 

“At  this  my  bride’s  father  broke  into  a smile. 

“ ‘What  has  that  got  to  do  with  you?’  he  asked.  ‘All  we 
have  to  do  is  to  take  out  the  cow  and  bum  the  bam.’ 

“I  saw  I was  in  a desperate  position,  so  I finally  said,  ‘But 
dear  father,  I have  a wife!’ 

“When  he  heard  this  he  became  livid  with  rage.  He  seized 
me  by  the  scruff  of  my  neck  and  threw  me  out. 

“I  ask  you — say  yourself:  doesn’t  that  prove  that  you  are 
worse  than  all  the  ten  good-for-nothings  in  my  family  rolled 
in  one?” 

Hershel  as  Coachman 

Hershel’s  wife  clamored : “Money!  Money!” 

“I  have  no  money,”  he  pleaded. 

“You  can  tell  that  to  your  grandmother!”  she  retorted.  “All 
I know  is  that  the  children  are  hungry.” 



When  Hershel  heard  this  he  became  serious  and  arose 
from  his  chair. 

“Go  to  our  next-door  neighbor  and  borrow  a whip,”  he 
said  sternly  to  his  oldest  boy. 

Hearing  this,  his  wife  began  to  tremble. 

“God  have  mercy!”  she  thought  with  dismay.  “Now  he’s 
going  to  give  me  a whipping!” 

But  this  was  farthest  from  Hershel’s  mind.  When  his  boy 
brought  him  the  whip  he  went  into  the  market-place  and 
cracked  it  loudly  in  the  air. 

“I’m  taking  people  to  Letitshev  for  half  fare!”  he  shouted. 

“What  a bargain!”  people  thought,  and  in  a wink  there 
were  eager  customers. 

Hershel  collected  money  from  them  and  gave  it  to  his  boy. 

“Run  home  and  give  it  to  your  mother,”  he  said. 

“Where  are  the  horses?”  inquired  his  passengers  as  they 
followed  him  down  the  road. 

“Come  along  and  don’t  worry!”  Hershel  told  them.  “I’ll 
take  you  right  into  Letitshev.” 

So  they  followed  him  without  further  questions. 

They  had  already  left  the  town,  but  still  no  horses.  In  the 
distance  they  saw  the  bridge.  “No  doubt  the  horses  are  at  the 
bridge,”  they  thought.  But  when  they  reached  the  bridge  there 
still  were  no  horses.  By  this  time  they  had  already  covered 
half  the  distance.  So  they  thought  to  themselves:  “Very  well, 
this  man  is  a swindler,  but  what  good  will  it  do  us  to  turn 
back  now?” 

Finally,  they  reached  Letitshev. 

“Return  us  our  money,  you  thief!”  they  demanded  of  Her- 
shel. “You  fooled  us!” 

. “I  fooled  you?”  laughed  Hershel  scornfully.  “Answer  me, 
did  I or  did  I not  promise  to  take  you  to  Letitshev?” 

“Yes,  but  ride  there,  not  walk!” 

“Pfui!”  snorted  Hershel.  “Did  I ever  say  a word  about 

The  passengers  looked  at  one  another  dumbfounded,  and 
since  there  was  nothing  they  could  do  about  it  they  spat  out 
in  contempt  and  went  away. 

When  Hershel  got  home  his  wife  met  him  at  the  door, 

“I  can’t  understand,  Hershel,”  she  said.  “You  had  a whip, 
but  where  on  earth  did  you  get  the  horses?” 

“Don’t  ask  foolish  questions!”  Hershel  laughed.  “What  do  I 



need  horses  for?  You  know  the  saying:  ‘If  you  crack  a whip 
you  can  always  find  some  horses.’  ” 

The  Poor  Cow 

One  Sabbath  afternoon  Hershel  Ostropolier  stood  at  the  win- 
dow in  the  rabbi’s  study  looking  outside. 

“Rabbi,”  he  suddenly  asked,  “if  one  sees  a cow  drowning 
oo  the  Sabbath — must  one  save  her  or  let  her  drown?” 

“Of  course  you  can’t  save  her!  It’s  not  allowedl  What  are 
you  looking  at  anyway?” 

“Nothing!  A cow  fell  into  the  lake.” 

“What  can  one  do?”  sighed  the  rabbi.  “The  Torah  forbids 

“Just  look!”  cried  Hershel.  uAi-ai-ail  Now  the  water  is  go- 
ing over  her  head!  It’s  a pity  on  the  poor  dumb  animal!” 

“What  can  one  do?” 

“So  you  say,  Rabbi,  nothing  can  be  done  for  her?” 

“What  concern  is  it  of  yours  anyway?” 

“Now  I can  no  longer  see  the  poor  cow  . . . she’s  gone  un- 
der . . . drowned!  A pity — a great  pity!” 

“What’s  the  matter  with  you,  Hershel!  Why  are  you  lament- 
ing so?” 

“You’ll  be  sorry.  Rabbi!  I tell  you — you’ll  be  sorry!” 

“Why,  in  God’s  name?” 

“It’s  your  cow,  Rabbi!” 

A Perfect  Fit 

Hershel’s  coat  was  falling  to  pieces.  It  was  a disgrace,  he 
felt,  to  show  himself  in  it  before  decent  people.  But  what  was 
he  to  do?  He  didn’t  have  a broken  kopek.  Somehow  he  had 
gotten  wind  of  the  fact  that  his  wife  had  hidden  a little  pile,  a 
few  groschen  at  a time. 

Hershel  began  to  daydream. . . . 

“If  I could  only  get  that  money  out  of  her,”  he  said  to 
himself,  “I’d  have  a new  coat  made.” 

Shortly  after,  he  climbed  up  the  ladder  to  the  garret.  And, 
as  his  wife  was  below,  she  was  surprised  to  hear  Hershel  talk- 
ing angrily  to  someone. 

“With  whom  are  you  talking,  Hershel?”  she  called  up  to 

“With  whom  do  you  think?  With  Destitution,  of  course,” 
Hershel  roared  down  from  the  garret. 



“How  on  earth  did  he  get  up  there?” 

“He  says  he  got  sick  and  tired  of  our  dingy  rooms  and  so, 
for  a change,  he’s  come  up  to  the  garret.” 

“What  does  he  want  of  you?” 

“The  Devil  take  him!  He  wants  a new  coat.  He  says  if  I'll 
order  a new  coat  for  him  he’ll  move  out  of  our  house  and 
never  come  back.” 

When  Hershel  climbed  down  from  the  garret  his  wife  said 
to  him,  “It  would  pay  to  make  Destitution  a new  coat  if  we 
can  get  rid  of  him  that  way.” 

“You’re  a smart  one!”  jeered  Hershel.  “If  money  grew  on 
trees  we  could  make  a sweet  pudding  of  it!” 

“I’ve  put  by  a couple  of  groschen,”  confessed  Hershel’s 
wife.  “Here  is  the  money,  buy  Destitution  a coat,  and  then 
we’ll  tell  him  to  go  and  break  his  hands  and  feet!” 

As  Hershel  started  to  leave  the  house  his  wife  called  him 

“You’ve  forgotten  to  take  Destitution’s  measure!” 

Hershel  nodded  and  went  up  again  to  the  garret.  When  he 
came  down  he  said,  “I  don’t  have  to  take  his  measure.  He 
and  I are  like  two  peas  in  a pod — not  a hair’s  difference.” 

Hershel  went  to  a tailor  who  took  his  measure  for  a new 
coat.  When  it  was  completed  he  put  it  on,  and  under  no  cir- 
cumstances would  he  take  it  off. 

“Why  don’t  you  take  the  coat  off,  Hershel?”  pleaded  his 
wife.  “If  Destitution  finds  out  that  you  are  wearing  his  coat 
he’ll  get  mighty  angry  and  he’ll  give  it  to  us  in  the  neck.” 

“You’re  right,”  said  Hershel,  and,  taking  off  his  coat,  he 
went  up  to  the  garret. 

After  a little  while  he  returned  with  the  coat. 

“Why  didn’t  you  give  him  the  coat?”  his  wife  reproached 

“It’s  no  use!”  said  Hershel,  downcast.  “The  coat  doesn’t  fit 

“I  thought  you  said  there  wasn’t  a hair’s  difference  between 
your  measure  and  his.” 

“True!”  replied  Hershel.  “But  that  was  before  we  spent 
money  on  his  new  coat.  Now  that  we’ve  spent  it  we’re  poorer 
and  Destitution  has  grown  bigger!” 



A Tooth  for  a Tooth 

In  the  town  was  an  upstart  rich  man — an  ignoramus  and  a 
boor.  He  had  an  only  daughter  who  had  nothing  to  recom- 
mend her  except  her  father’s  money.  Whatever  match  was 
proposed  for  her  the  father  would  turn  down. 

“My  daughter  will  marry  only  a man  of  good  family!”  he 
said  haughtily. 

One  day,  made  desperate  by  need,  Hershel  Ostropolier 
came  to  him  with  a proposition. 

“The  youth  I’m  proposing  for  your  daughter  is  a gem,”  he 
told  the  rich  man.  “He’s  handsome,  he’s  learned  in  the  Torah, 
and  he  has  a fine  character.” 

“Who  is  he?”  asked  the  rich  man,  beaming  with  antici- 

“Shmul,  the  cobbler’s  son,”  answered  Hershel. 

“You  lout!”  roared  the  rich  man.  “How  dare  you  propose 
such  a match  for  my  daughter!  Out  of  my  house  this 

And  he  took  Hershel  by  the  scruff  of  his  neck  and  the  seat 
of  his  pants  and  threw  him  out  of  the  house. 

Several  days  later,  who  should  call  on  the  same  rich  man 
but  Hershel! 

“You  here  again!”  shouted  the  rich  man  angrily.  “I  told 
you  not  to  show  your  face  again  here!” 

“Don’t  be  angry,”  began  Hershel,  mollifyingly.  “I  have  a 
first-class  match  for  your  daughter  this  time.” 

The  rich  man  became  curious. 

“Really?”  he  asked.  “Who  is  it  now?” 

“None  other  but  the  rabbi’s  son.” 

The  rich  man  leaped  to  his  feet  with  delight. 

“Wonderful!  This  is  really  unexpected!”  he  murmured. 
“But  tell  me  Hershel,  my  dear  friend,  were  you  already  at  the 
rabbi’s?  Did  you  talk  to  him  about  the  matter  yet?” 

“What  a question:  ‘Was  I there?’  Of  course  I already  spoke 
to  the  rabbi  about  it.” 

‘Tell  me!  What  did  he  say?”  inquired  the  rich  man  ea- 

“What  did  he  say?  He  said  just  what  you  said  to  me  the 
other  day!  ‘You  lout!  How  dare  you  propose  such  a match 
for  my  son!  Out  of  my  house  this  minute!’  And  he  took  me 
by  the  scruff  of  my  neck  and  the  seat  of  my  pants  and  threw 
me  out!” 


What  Hershel’s  Father  Did 

Once  Hershel  Ostropolier  stopped  at  an  inn  to  spend  the 
night.  There  were  no  other  guests  at  the  time.  The  innkeeper 
was  away  and  only  his  wife  was  there  to  receive  Hershel. 

“I’m  half  dead  with  hunger,”  Hershel  told  her.  “Do  give 
me  something  to  eat.” 

Looking  at  his  shabby  clothes  the  woman  thought  to  her- 
self, “This  man  is  a tramp.  Why  take  a chance  and  feed 

“I’m  very  sorry,  my  good  man,  but  there  isn’t  a drop  of 
food  in  the  house.” 

“What?  No  food?”  cried  Hershel,  jumping  up. 

For  a moment  he  stood  deep  in  thought.  Then  he  mut- 
tered, “In  that  case,  I’m  afraid  I’ll  have  to  do  just  what  my 
father  did!” 

When  the  innkeeper’s  wife  heard  this  she  grew  alarmed. 
“What  did  your  father  do?”  she  asked,  all  a-tremble. 

“Never  mind,  my  father  did  what  he  did!”  said  Hershel, 

“What  in  heaven’s  name  could  this  man’s  father  have 
done?”  the  innkeeper’s  wife  wondered.  “It’s  a bad  business, 
me  all  alone  with  him  in  the  house.  Who  can  tell — his  father 
may  have  been  a murderer,  and  if  he  threatens  to  do  what  his 
father  did — good  God  . . . !” 

Without  a word  she  set  the  table  and  served  Hershel  all 
manner  of  good  things.  Hershel  was  so  hungry  he  ate  like  a 
wolf.  When  he  had  finished  he  smacked  his  lips  and  said,  “I 
haven’t  eaten  such  a good  dinner  since  Passover!” 

Seeing  that  the  stranger  was  in  a good  mood  the  woman 
asked  timidly,  “Be  so  good  and  tell  me — what  was  it  that 
your  father  did!” 

“Oh,  my  father?”  replied  Hershel  innocently.  “Whenever 
my  father  didn’t  have  any  supper  he  went  to  bed  without  it.” 

Gilding  the  Lily 

“Hershel,”  said  a rich  man  to  the  celebrated  pauper-wag,  “if 
you’ll  tell  me  a lie  without  thinking,  I’ll  give  you  one  ruble.” 
“What  do  you  mean  one  ruble — you  just  said  two!” 

When  Hershel  Eats 

In  a certain  village  lived  a rich  man.  He  was  stingy  and  hard- 
hearted, but  he  was  also  clever  and  knew  how  to  conceal  his 



corruption.  Those  who  didn’t  know  him  even  got  the  im- 
pression that  he  was  kind-hearted.  On  the  Sabbath  he  would 
invite  some  poor  traveller  to  his  table,  but  woe  to  the  unwary 
victim  who  fell  into  his  clutches! 

As  a mark  of  honor  he  would  place  the  wretch  at  the  head 
of  the  table.  Then  the  cat-and-mouse  play  began.  He  would 
ply  the  stranger  with  innumerable  questions  so  that  out  of  po- 
liteness he’d  have  to  answer  them.  This  gave  him  no  oppor- 
tunity to  eat.  In  the  meantime  his  host  was  enjoying  both  his 
food  and  his  own  cunning.  To  add  insult  to  injury,  when 
practically  nothing  was  left  on  the  table  the  host  would  turn 
with  solicitude  to  his  guest  and  upbraid  him  gently,  “Why 
didn’t  you  eat?  Why  did  you  talk  so  much?” 

What  was  the  poor  man  to  do?  He  had  to  thank  his  host 
like  a hypocrite  and  go  to  bed  hungry. 

Once  it  chanced  that  Hershel  Ostropolier  arrived  in  this 
village.  Hearing  of  the  queer  ways  of  this  rich  man  and  his 
tricks,  he  decided  to  take  revenge  on  him  for  all  the  poor  un- 
fortunates he  had  maltreated. 

When  Friday  night  arrived  Hershel  asked  the  shammes  of 
the  synagogue  to  arrange  that  he  be  invited  to  this  rich  man’s 
house  as  his  Sabbath  guest.  The  shammes  even  tried  to  dis- 
suade him  from  the  step. 

“Take  my  word  for  it,”  he  said,  “this  rich  man  is  wicked.” 

But  Hershel  insisted.  So  the  shammes  made  the  necessary 
arrangements  for  his  visit. 

After  the  Friday  night  service  in  the  synagogue  Hershel 
went  home  with  the  rich  man.  When  they  sat  down  to  supper 
his  host  seated  him  in  the  place  of  honor,  introduced  him  to 
the  members  of  his  household  and  showed  him  marked  atten- 
tion. After  they  all  had  recited  the  blessings  over  the  wine  the 
servants  brought  in  a tureen  of  fish.  Its  aroma  made  the  al- 
ready hungry  Hershel  even  hungrier. 

The  head  of  the  household  first  stuck  his  fork  into  a fine 
portion  of  gefillte  fish  and  put  it  on  his  plate.  Then,  as  if  ab- 
sent-minded, he  didn’t  pass  the  tureen  to  Hershel  but  kept  it 
near  himself.  He  fell  into  a revery. 

“From  where  do  you  come,  uncle?”  he  asked. 

“From  Vishnitz,”  answered  Hershel,  mentioning  a name  at 

“From  Vishnitz?  Then  surely  you  must  know  Shaiah  the 
miller!  How  is  he?  What’s  he  doing?” 

“Shaiah  the  miller?”  echoed  Hershel.  “He  died.” 



Thereupon,  without  any  further  ceremony,  Hershel  extend- 
ed his  arm  across  the  table  and  stuck  his  fork  into  a large 
portion  of  fish  which  he  put  on  his  plate.  He  fell  to  and  ate 
with  zest. 

But  his  host  was  flabbergasted  at  what  Hershel  had  told 
him.  He  turned  pale  and  put  down  his  fork. 

“Did  you  hear,  Malke?”  he  cried  incredulously  to  his  wife. 
“My  old  friend  Shaiah  is  dead!  Why  didn’t  his  wife  let  me 
know?  I wonder  what  will  happen  to  his  fortune — he  must 
have  left  a nice  little  pile!  But  tell  me — how  is  Velvel?” 

“Which  Velvel?” 

“Why  Shaiah’s  eldest  son,  you  know,  the  one  who  runs  the 
inn  in  Vishnitz.” 

“Oh,  you  mean  Velvel  who  runs  the  inn?  He  died  too!” 
said  Hershel  in  a matter-of-fact  voice,  spearing  another  piece 
of  fish. 

“Velvel  died?”  cried  the  rich  man  incredulously.  “Did  you 
hear,  Malke — Velvel  died!  Woe  is  me.  He  owes  me  five 
hundred  rubles!  But  tell  me  how  is  Velvel’s  partner,  Yoshe 
the  vintner?  Is  he  running  the  inn  now?” 

“No!”  sighed  Hershel,  chewing  away  at  the  fish.  “He  also 

“What!  Yoshe  the  vintner  is  also  dead!  Woe  is  us,  Malke! 
My  money  is  lost!” 

And  as  the  rich  man  continued  to  rave  and  get  excited 
Hershel  went  on  eating  calmly,  smiling  into  his  beard. 

“Uncle,”  the  rich  man  finally  ventured  with  trepidation, 
“maybe  you  know  what  Shaiah’s  brother,  Avrum  the  dry- 
goods  merchant,  is  doing?” 

“What  Avrum?”  asked  Hershel  innocently,  almost  choking 
on  a mouthful  of  delicious  white  chaleh. 

“Why,  don’t  you  know — Avrum  the  dry-goods  merchant! 
He  lives  near  the  lake,  in  the  big  white  house!” 

“Oh,  he?  I knew  him  well,”  answered  Hershel.  “He’s  dead 

“Have  you  gone  out  of  your  head,  uncle?”  shrieked  the 
rich  man  in  an  unearthly  voice,  jumping  up  from  his  chair. 
“Surely,  you  don’t  mean  to  tell  me  that  everybody  in  Vishnitz 

“My  dear  friend,”  drawled  Hershel  in  his  nasal  way,  “when 
I eat,  everybody  is  as  good  as  dead  for  me!  But  say,  my  good 
host,  you’ve  been  so  busy  talking  you’ve  forgotten  to  eat! 
Know  what?  Your  gefillte  fish  is  really  first  rate!” 



Hershel  as  Wine-Doctor 

At  a time  when  the  grape  crop  failed,  the  wine  dealer  of  the 
town  began  to  skin  his  customers  alive.  “I  don’t  need  any 
customers!”  he  said  haughtily.  ‘‘I  can  afford  to  wait  for  my 

Because  of  his  attitude  the  townfolk  had  to  go  without 
wine,  and  so  they  thirsted  for  revenge. 

“Just  you  wait!”  Hershel  Ostropolier  said  to  them.  “I’ll 
teach  this  wretch  such  a lesson  that  he’ll  remember  his  grand- 

Hershel  borrowed  some  good  clothes  in  order  to  look  re- 
spectable and,  accompanied  by  the  young  men  of  the  town, 
he  went  to  call  on  the  wine-seller.  His  companions  waited  out- 
side as  he  entered. 

“Good  morning!”  began  Hershel.  “Allow  me  to  introduce 
myself.  I am  a well-known  wine-maker  from  Lemberg.  I can 
make  good  wine  out  of  bad  and  better  wine  out  of  good.” 

The  wine-seller  was  overjoyed. 

“Are  you  staying  long  in  town?” 

“No,  just  passing  through.  I wanted  to  see  how  the  wine 
business  was  in  these  parts.” 

“I’ll  be  much  obliged  to  you,  young  man,  if  you’ll  teach 
me  how  to  improve  my  wine.” 

“With  the  greatest  of  pleasure!”  answered  Hershel.  ‘Take 
me  down  to  your  cellar  and  I’ll  teach  you.” 

So  they  went  down  into  the  wine-cellar.  Out  of  his  trav- 
elling bag  Hershel  took  a drill  and  bored  a hole  in  one  barrel. 
He  stuck  his  finger  in  the  hole,  then  moistened  his  lips  with 

“Not  bad,”  he  wagged  his  head,  judiciously,  like  an  expert. 
“Be  so  good  as  to  put  your  finger  into  this  hole  while  I taste 
the  wine  in  the  next  barrel.” 

The  wine-seller  did  as  he  was  told. 

Hershel  then  bored  a hole  in  the  next  barrel,  tasted  the 
wine  and  smacked  his  lips. 

“Not  bad!”  he  said  judiciously.  “Please  be  good  enough  to 
stop  up  this  hole  with  a finger  of  your  other  hand.” 

The  wine-seller  did  as  he  was  told.  And,  when  he  had  both 
hands  thus  occupied,  Hershel  called  to  his  companions.  Real- 
izing that  he  had  been  trapped  the  profiteer  became  livid  with 



“You  rogue!”  he  cried.  “I’ll  have  you  thrown  into  prison 
for  this!” 

“Just  see  how  well  he  holds  on  to  his  wine,”  said  Hershel 
gleefully.  “We’ll  let  him  hold  on  this  way  all  night,  just  to 
teach  him  not  to  be  such  a pig!” 

The  Feast 

Hershel  Ostropolier  found  himself  travelling  in  a stage 
coach  with  a company  of  Hasidim.  These  were  upstart  rich 
men  who  had  a lot  of  fun  making  sport  of  Hershel.  He  didn’t 
enjoy  their  fun  at  all,  but  held  his  peace,  thinking:  “Just  you 
wait,  you  rascals!  My  name  isn’t  Hershel  for  nothing!  Make 
sport  of  me  to  your  hearts’  content — you’ll  pay  for  it  dearly.” 

“Hershel!”  one  of  the  company  suddenly  called  out  ‘Wou 
owe  us  a feast!” 

“I  owe  you  a feast?  What  miracle  has  happened?” 

“You  were  appointed  jester  to  the  rabbi  some  time  ago, 
and  we  haven’t  yet  had  a chance  to  drink  on  it.” 

“A  feast,  a feast!”  cried  the  others. 

“I  haven’t  any  money.” 

“Sell  your  clothes  then.  Pawn  your  wife’s  pearls!  But  make 
a feast  for  us.” 

“But  my  wife  has  no  pearls.” 

“What  do  you  mean,  your  wife  has  no  pearls!  Buy  them 
for  her  and  then  pawn  them!” 

Seeing  that  he  was  in  a hole  Hershel  agreed  reluctantly 
saying,  “You’re  right!  I owe  you  a feast  and  I’ll  pay  up.” 

So  they  continued  on  their  journey.  Towards  noon  they 
came  to  an  inn.  The  Hasidim  were  hungry  and  wanted  to 
stop  there.  But  Hershel  didn’t  want  to  go  in  with  them. 

“I  owe  the  innkeeper  some  money,”  he  said.  “And  I can’t 
pay  him  now.” 

The  Hasidim  laughed  and  gave  him  the  following  instruc- 
tions.  You,  Hershel,  ride  ahead  with  the  carriage.  We’ll  eat 
and  rest  awhile  and  later  on  we’ll  catch  up  with  vou  at  the 
inn  in  the  next  village.” 

Hershel  did  as  they  suggested,  and  in  three  hours’  time  he 
reached  the  next  inn.  Before  entering  he  took  his  Sabbath 
gabardine  out  of  his  travelling  bag.  Looking  important  he 
le.nt/UP  *?  *e  ^eper,  extended  his  hand  with  a loud 
Shalom  ateichem!”  and  said,  “Know  that  in  a short  while  a 
large  carriage  will  arrive  with  a company  of  rich  people. 



They  sent  me  ahead  to  give  you  the  message — that  you. 
should  prepare  the  finest  gefillte  fish,  the  fattest  geese,  and  the 
most  expensive  wines.  Prepare  everything  with  generosity. 
There’s  absolutely  no  question  about  money!  Only  hurry,  be- 
cause they’ll  soon  be  here.” 

“And  what,  if  I may  ask,  is  the  reason  for  this  celebra- 
tion?” asked  the  innkeeper. 

Hershel  answered  without  hesitation,  “Several  days  ago, 
while  passing  through  the  forest,  they  were  waylaid  by  a gang 
of  robbers.  But  they  came  out  of  the  business  unscathed. 
Therefore,  they’re  making  this  feast  in  thanksgiving.” 

The  innkeeper  told  his  wife  the  good  news,  and  in  a wink 
everybody  became  feverishly  busy,  cooking,  scouring  and 
cleaning  as  one  would,  expecting  important  guests.  Hershel 
requested  that  the  place  be  brightened  festively.  So  they  lit 
many  candles. 

When  the  Hasidim  neared  the  inn  they  saw  Hershel  run- 
ning towards  them.  At  first  they  were  frightened. 

“Why  do  you  run  all  out  of  breath,  Hershel?”  they  asked. 
“What  has  happened?” 

“God  is  good!” 

“What!  Have  you  found  a treasure?” 

“You  wanted  a feast,  didn’t  you?  Well,  the  good  Lord  has 
arranged  it.  There,  in  that  inn,  they’ve  already  been  celebrat- 
ing for  a week.  Every  Jewish  traveller  who  passes  by  is 
obliged  to  stop  here  and  feast  with  the  innkeeper  without 
paying  one  kopek.” 

“The  innkeeper  is  crazy!”  the  Hasidim  agreed  among 

“Why  is  he  crazy?”  protested  Hershel.  “There’s  a whole 
story  to  it.  A week  ago  a gang  of  robbers  waylaid  the  inn- 
keeper as  he  was  passing  through  a dark  forest.  Because  he 
escaped  without  a scratch  the  innkeeper  is  celebrating  this 
way  in  thanksgiving  to  God.  It  would  be  a sin,  believe  me,  to 
let  such  a fine  feast  get  away  from  us!  Remember  though, 
don’t  mention  a word  about  money!  You’ll  only  embarrass 
the  innkeeper.” 

This  story  pleased  the  Hasidim  so  they  drew  up  before  the 
inn  and  entered. 

Everybody  could  see  that  Hershel  had  told  the  whole  truth. 
The  inn  was  beautifully  illuminated  as  though  for  a feast. 
The  tables  were  set  with  all  good  things.  The  innkeeper  and 
his  wife  were  dressed  in  their  Sabbath  best.  Without  hesita- 



tion  the  Hasidim  seated  themselves  and  began  to  make 
merry.  The  innkeeper  almost  crawled  out  of  his  skin  to  please 
his  guests.  The  Hasidim  gorged  themselves.  They  sang  and 
they  even  danced  in  a circle. 

Thus  the  night  passed. 

Just  at  the  point  of  daybreak  the  door  of  the  inn  was 
thrown  wide  open  and  the  driver  of  the  carriage  in  which  the 
Hasidim  had  come  stormed  in. 

“It’s  high  time  to  leave!”  he  announced.  “And  I’m  not  go- 
ing to  wait  a minute  longer!” 

When  Hershel  heard  this  he  stole  out  of  the  inn.  Barely 
able  to  stand  on  their  legs,  the  Hasidim  staggered  out  and  be- 
gan to  climb  into  the  carriage.  Seeing  this,  the  innkeeper  ran 
up  and  held  on  to  the  horses. 

“I  won’t  let  you  go  until  you  pay  me!”  he  cried. 

Everybody  began  to  shout  at  the  same  time,  and  no  one 
knew  what  anybody  was  saying.  The  shock  of  the  news  al- 
most sobered  up  the  Hasidim.  Blazing  with  anger  they  said  to 
the  innkeeper,  “How  dare  you  demand  payment  of  us?  Her- 
shel distinctly  told  us  that  you  were  inviting  every  passerby  to 
a feast  of  thanksgiving  because  you  were  saved  from  a gang 
of  robbers  in  the  woods  last  week.” 

“That’s  a lie!”  raged  the  innkeeper.  “Hershel  told  me  dis- 
tinctly that  it  was  you  who  escaped  unscathed  from  a gang  of 
robbers  and  that’s  why  you  were  sending  him  with  a message 
to  me  that  I should  prepare  a feast  of  thanksgiving  for  you. 
A fine  bunch  of  robbers  you  are  yourselves,  you  pious  hypo- 
crites! On  my  word  as  a Jew,  if  you  don’t  pay  up  immedi- 
ately I’ll  have  you  arrested  and  sent  to  prison!” 

And  the  Hasidim  paid. 

The  Way  to  Die 

Hershel  Ostropolier,  the  famous  jester,  died  as  he  had 
lived — with  a joke  on  his  lips. 

When  Rabbi  Boruch  and  his  disciples  stood  around  Her- 
shel s bed  and  listened  to  him  making  sport  of  everything  and 
everybody  they  were  filled  with  wonder. 

“Haven’t  you  done  enough  ridiculing  in  your  life  without 
having  to  do  so  on  your  deathbed?”  the  rabbi  rebuked  him 
sternly.  “Aren’t  you  afraid  of  Hell?” 

“Never  fear,”  replied  the  dying  Hershel,  “I’ll  joke  myself 
out  of  there,  too!” 



“For  instance?”  asked  the  rabbi. 

“If  the  Angel  of  Death  asks  me  whether  I devoted  my  days 
and  nights  to  the  study  of  the  Torah,  I’ll  answer:  ‘If  you 
think  I’m  not  a scholar  don’t  make  me  your  son-in-law.’  If  he 
asks  me  what  my  name  is — I’ll  tell  him:  ‘Getzel.’  Naturally, 
he’ll  get  angry.  ‘What’s  the  idea,  your  name  is  Hershel!’  So 
I’ll  tell  him:  ‘Since  you  know,  why  do  you  ask?’  And  if  he 
asks  me:  ‘What  have  you  accomplished  in  life?  Have  you 
mended  anything  that  was  wrong  in  the  world?’  I’ll  answer: 
‘Mended?  Surely,  I mended — I mended  my  socks,  my  shirt, 
my  pants.  . . .’  ” 

A little  later,  when  the  members  of  the  Burial  Society  ar- 
rived, Hershel  said  to  them  with  his  dying  breath,  “Remem- 
ber, my  friends,  when  you  lift  me  up  to  lay  me  in  my  coffin 
be  sure  not  to  hold  me  under  the  arm-pits.  I’ve  always  been 
very  ticklish  there!” 

And  so,  with  a smile  on  his  lips,  Hershel  breathed  his  last. 

Fools  and  Simpletons 


Laughing  at  the  absurdities  of  fools  is  one  of  the  oldest  diver- 
sions of  mankind.  There  is  within  all  of  us  a deep-seated  psycho- 
logical drive  to  achieve  self-elevation  by  means  of  disparaging 
others  whom  we  are  pleased  to  consider  less  bright  than  our- 
selves. A fool,  of  course,  is  always  the  other  fellow,  never  our- 

There  are  a great  number  of  ancient  and  modern  Jewish  say- 
ings that  refer  disdainfully  to  fools:  “It  is  better  to  hear  the  re- 
buke of  the  wise  than  for  a man  to  hear  the  song  of  fools.  . . . 
For  as  the  crackling  of  thorns  under  a pot,  so  is  the  laughter  of  a 
fool.  ...  A fool’s  voice  is  known  by  a multitude  of  words.  . . . 
It  is  better  to  lose  to  a wise  man  than  to  win  from  a fool.  . . . 
Never  show  half -finished  work  to  a fool.” 

However,  there  is  still  another  tradition  about  fools.  It,  on  the 
contrary,  is  not  scornful  but  understanding  and  compassionate, 
and  springs  from  the  ethical  values  of  the  folk  who  keep  in  mind 
the  admonitions  of  the  Prophet  Jeremiah:  “Let  not  the  wise  man 
glory  in  his  wisdom.”  This  attitude  is  derived  from  the  precept  of 
humility  taught  in  Israel  since  the  days  of  the  Prophets  and  the 
sages.  This  is  trenchantly  pointed  in  the  saying:  “All  wise  people 
act  foolishly  sometimes.” 

There  is  a whimsical  little  story  in  the  Talmud  about  a man 



who  had  left  a will  stipulating:  “My  son  shall  not  receive  his  in- 
heritance until  he  becomes  foolish.”  The  rabbinical  judges  were 
confounded  by  this  clause.  What  on  earth  could  it  mean?  So  they 
decided  to  call  on  the  astute  Rabbi  Joshua  ben  Korha  (2nd  Cen- 
tury a.d.)  in  order  to  ask  his  advice  in  the  matter. 

When  they  entered  the  rabbi’s  house  they  drew  back  in  amaze- 
ment. There,  on  the  floor,  crawling  on  all  fours  was  Rabbi 
Joshua!  With  a cord  in  his  mouth  and  his  little  son  astride  him, 
he  was  playing  the  time-honored  game  of  “horsie.” 

When  Rabbi  Joshua  regained  his  dignity  and  listened  to  the 
rabbis’  question  about  the  will  he  could  not  contain  his  mirth: 
“My  Masters,”  he  laughed,  “I  have  given  you  a concrete  illustra- 
tion of  your  case.  Know  that  everyone  becomes  foolish  as  soon  as 
he  has  children!” 

During  the  Middle  Ages,  when  “The  Fool  in  Christ”  became  a 
cherished  belief  of  the  Christian  mystics,  the  Jews  did  not  remain 
unaffected  by  it.  There  are  stories  about  the  Lamed-Vav-Tzad- 
dikim,  the  Thirty-Six  Hidden  Saints,  that  carry  this  theme  in 
modified  form  and  in  characteristic  Jewish  garb.  There  is  a strik- 
ing similarity  between  them  and  the  Christian  tales  about  saintly 
fools,  and  even  with  modern  literary  treatments  of  these  folktales, 
such  as  Tolstoy’s  moral  stories  about  “holy  fools”  and  the  “holy 
simpleton”  tale,  Fra  Giovanni,  by  Anatole  France. 

There  is  no  body  of  humorous  folk-literature  more  widely  dis- 
seminated among  Yiddish-speaking  Jews  than  the  stories  about 
the  fools  (or  “sages”  as  they  are  scoffingly  called)  of  Chelm. 
There  are,  of  course,  fools  and  fools,  but  in  the  Jewish  folk-fancy 
the  fools  of  Chelm  represent  the  ne  plus  ultra  in  simpletons.  They 
have  even  entered  into  the  Yiddish  language.  When  a Jew  refers 
to  a pretentious  foolish  person,  likely  as  not  he  will  say  of  bim 
ironically:  “Just  look  at  him — a regular  Chelmer  chochem." 

What  is  Chelm?  It  is  a real  town  in  Poland,  like  Gotham  in 
England  and  Schildburg  in  Germany.  These  three  towns  have  one 
thing  in  common — for  some  unaccountable  reason  they  were 
elected  in  irreverent  folklore  to  serve  as  the  centers  of  all  inno- 
cent stupidity.  The  historical  origin  of  the  foolish  stories  about 
the  inhabitants  of  all  three  places  is  closely  linked.  Which  of 
them  came  first  chronologically  is  like  debating  which  came 
first — the  chicken  or  the  egg.  However,  we  do  know  one  fact, 
that  the  tales  about  the  fools  of  Schildburg  were  translated  in 
1597  from  the  German  into  Yiddish,  and  enjoyed  enormous  popu- 
larity in  central  and  eastern  Europe. 

Whether  there  already  existed  before  that  time  a body  of  hu- 
morous Yiddish  stories  about  the  fools  of  Chelm,  we  have  no 
way  of  knowing.  It  is  reasonable,  though,  to  conjecture  that, 
prior  to  that  time,  there  must  have  been  in  circulation  among 



Jews  many  jokes  about  fools  but  there  was  no  unifying  peg  on 
which  to  hang  them.  Conceivably,  the  Schildburger  tales  may 
have  served  as  a model  for  the  adoption  of  Chelm  as  a town  of 
Jewish  fools.  Since  then  many  a story  about  fools  has  con- 
veniently been  ascribed  to  the  inhabitants  of  Chelm. 

The  Chelm  stories  have  their  own  flavor  and  coloration,  differ- 
ing considerably  from  the  Schildburg  and  Gotham  stories.  They 
not  only  have  Jewish  settings  and,  to  some  extent,  are  an  index  to 
Jewish  character,  customs  and  manners,  but  they  also  possess 
many  facets  of  Jewish  irony  and  wit.  Unquestionably,  they  consti- 
tute an  original  body  of  folk-humor. 


What  Makes  a Fool 

A fool  went  to  the  rabbi  and  said:  “I  know  I’m  a fool. 
Rabbi,  but  I don’t  know  what  to  do  about  it.  Please  advise 
me  what  to  do.” 

“Ah,  my  son!”  exclaimed  the  rabbi,  in  a complimentary 
way.  “If  you  know  you’re  a fool,  then  you  surely  are  no 

“Then  why  does  everybody  say  I’m  a fool?”  complained 
the  man. 

The  rabbi  regarded  him  thoughtfully  for  a moment. 

“If  you  yourself  don’t  understand  that  you’re  a fool,"  he 
chided  him,  “but  only  listen  to  what  people  say,  then  you 
surely  are  a fool!” 

Some  of  the  Nicest  People 

A Jew  came  to  his  rabbi  to  lodge  a complaint  against  other 
members  of  the  congregation. 

“Rabbi,”  he  asked  plaintively,  “do  you  think  it  right  of 
them  to  call  me  a fool?” 

The  rabbi  listened  with  sympathy. 

“Why  get  upset  by  such  a trifle!”  he  consoled  him.  “Do 
you  think  fools  are  so  very  different  from  other  people?  Be- 
lieve me,  some  of  the  nicest  people  I’ve  ever  known  were 
fools.  Why,  even  a fine,  intelligent  man  like  you  could  be 


Why  Waste  Money? 

Once  there  was  a nitwit,  and  he  could  not  be  trusted  with 
anything  from  here  to  there.  Naturally,  he  was  a source  of 
grief  to  his  parents.  But  what  could  they  do,  poor  people — he 
was  their  own  flesh  and  blood! 

One  day  his  mother  said  to  him,  “Motkele,  my  son,  here  is 
a ruble!  Go  to  market  and  buy  a hen  for  me.  But  remember, 
hold  tight  to  the  ruble  and  don’t  lose  it.” 

Motkele  promised  faithfully  and  went  to  market.  But  on 
his  return  his  mother  almost  fainted.  Motkele  had  brought 
back  a jug  filled  with  water! 

“Motkele,  my  son,  what  on  earth  have  you  done?”  she 
cried.  “Didn’t  I ask  you  to  buy  a hen?  What’s  this  water  for?” 

“Don’t  be  angry  with  me,  mother!”  pleaded  Motkele.  “Let 
me  tell  you  what  happened.  I went  to  market  to  buy  a hen, 
as  you  told  me  to.  When  I asked  the  poultry  woman  to  sell 
me  a hen  she  said:  ‘I  want  you  to  know  that  this  is  no  mere 
hen — it’s  heavenly  chicken-fat!’  When  I heard  her  praise 
chicken-fat  so  I knew  that  chicken-fat  must  be  better  than  a 
hen,  so  I went  to  buy  chicken-fat.  I asked  the  butcher  for 
some  chicken-fat.  He  said  to  me:  ‘This  is  no  mere  chicken- 
fat — it’s  as  clear  as  oil!’  I understood  then  that  oil  must  be 
better  than  chicken-fat.  So  I went  into  a shop  and  asked  for 
oil,  and  the  shopkeeper  said:  “This  is  no  mere  oil!  You  can 
see  it’s  pure  as  water!’  When  I heard  that  water  was  better 
than  oil,  I said  to  myself:  ‘What’s  the  use  of  wasting  a good 
ruble?’  So  I got  the  pitcher  and  filled  it  with  pure  water,  and 
here  I am!” 

Philosophy  with  Noodles 

Once  a proposal  of  marriage  was  brought  to  a young  man 
who  was  simple-minded.  Poor  fellow!  He  had  no  idea  how  to 
behave  in  the  company  of  others.  And  so,  in  order  to  save 
him  from  embarrassment,  his  father,  who  was  a man  of  the 
world,  cautioned  him  as  follows: 

“When  you  visit  the  bride  for  the  first  time  you  no  doubt 
will  not  know  what  to  talk  to  her  about.  Therefore,  if  you 
want  to  make  a good  impression  on  her,  here’s  my  advice. 
First,  begin  talking  about  love.  Then  you  can  touch  on  family 
affairs.  You  can  wind  up  with  a little  philosophy.” 

The  groom  nodded  gravely  and  replied  that  he  understood 
perfectly  well  how  he  was  to  behave.  Then,  with  his  father’s 



blessings,  he  went  off  to  make  his  first  call  on  his  intended. 

At  first  he  felt  great  constraint  because  the  girl’s  parents 
were  present,  but  when  they  left  from  motives  of  delicacy,  he 
relaxed  somewhat.  Then,  remembering  his  father’s  counsel,  he 
suddenly  asked  the  girl,  “Do  you  love  noodles?” 

“Sure,”  she  answered  in  surprise.  “Why  shouldn’t  I love 

After  a moment  of  silence,  he  continued,  “Do  you  have  a 

“No,  I have  no  brother.” 

The  groom  rejoiced — he  had  safely  weathered  his  father’s 
first  two  instructions,  had  talked  about  love  and  family  mat- 
ters. Now  he  still  had  to  philosophize  a bit. 

“Kaleh,”  he  asked,  furrowing  his  brow,  “if  you  had  a 
brother,  would  he  have  loved  noodles?” 


In  any  Jewish  village  of  old  Russia  a Gentile  could  earn 
small  sums  on  the  Sabbath  and  holy  days  by  performing  cer- 
tain duties  for  orthodox  Jews  that  were  forbidden  to  them  by 
their  religion. 

On  a train,  Yoshke  the  luftmensch,  from  a tiny  village,  was 
sitting  next  to  a Jew  from  Kharkov. 

In  the  course  of  the  inevitable  conversation  Yoshke  stated 
with  pride,  “Our  town  is  quite  a town.  We  have  five  hundred 
Jews  and  fifty  Gentiles.  How  big  is  your  town?” 

“In  our  town  we  have  a hundred  thousand  Jews,”  said  the 
man  from  Kharkov  bluntly. 

Yoshke  was  overwhelmed.  “Unbelievable!”  he  said.  “How 
many  Gentiles  have  you?” 

“About  a million.” 

“A  million!  What  do  you  need  so  many  Gentiles  for?” 

If  It  Were  Anyone  Else 

“Doctor,  I need  help,”  complained  a patient.  “I  talk  to  my- 

“Do  you  suffer  pain?”  asked  the  doctor. 

“No,  no  pain.” 

“Well,”  said  the  doctor,  “then  go  home,  don’t  worry.  Mil- 
lions of  people  talk  to  themselves.  . . .” 

“But,  doctor,”  cried  the  patient,  “you  don’t  know  what  a 
nudnik  I am!” 

214  the  human  comedy 

It’s  Terrible 

In  a hot,  dusty  train  unequipped  with  the  luxury  of  water  an 
old  Jew  sat  opposite  a stranger  in  the  cramped  seats. 

“Oy,”  said  the  old  man  for  about  the  ninetieth  time,  “am  I 

The  stranger  twitched  with  irritation. 

“What  a terrible  thirst  I have!”  the  old  man  repeated 

Again  the  stranger’s  nerves  tensed. 

“Oy,  am  I thirsty!”  again  exclaimed  the  old  man. 

Just  then  the  train  stopped  at  a station.  The  stranger  has- 
tened into  the  station,  obtained  a cup  of  water,  and  returned. 
Thrusting  it  at  the  old  man  he  cried,  “Here,  drink!” 

“Thank  you,”  said  the  old  man,  and  drank. 

As  the  train  started  up  again  the  stranger  settled  back  to 
enjoy  the  peace.  But  in  a moment  the  quiet  was  shattered  by 
a mighty  sigh. 

“Oy,  did  I have  a thirst!” 

Making  It  Easy 

Every  afternoon  Herr  Gutman  went  to  play  pinochle  with 
several  cronies  at  the  Cafe  Schlagobers  in  Vienna.  One  after- 
noon, as  he  sat  playing,  he  suddenly  fell  forward;  he  had  died 
from  a stroke. 

His  cronies  decided  to  send  the  dead  man’s  bosom  com- 
panion, Herr  Lubin,  to  break  the  news  to  the  poor  widow. 

Guten  Tag,  Herr  Lubin,”  Frau  Gutman  greeted  her  unex- 
pected visitor.  “How  are  things?” 

“How  should  they  be?  Fine.” 

“Have  you  seen  my  husband?” 

“I  have.”  ** 

“In  the  Cafe,  no  doubt?” 

“Where  else?” 

“No  doubt  he  played  pinochle?” 

“What  else?” 

“I  wouldn’t  be  surprised  if  he  lost  all  his  money!” 

“Who  else’s  money  would  he  lose?” 

“What!  He  lost  his  money?  May  he  be  struck  dead,  the 
good-for-nothing !” 

Yc*u.  see,  Frau  Gutman,”  cried  Herr  Lubin,  overjoyed. 
That’s  just  what  I’ve  come  to  see  you  about!” 



The  Mistake 

The  rabbi  of  Chelm  and  one  of  his  Talmud  students  were 
spending  the  night  at  the  inn.  The  student  asked  the  servant 
to  wake  him  at  dawn  because  he  was  to  take  an  early  train. 
The  servant  did  so.  Not  wishing  to  wake  the  rabbi,  the 
student  groped  in  the  dark  for  his  clothes  and,  in  his  haste, 
he  put  on  the  long  rabbinical  gabardine.  He  hurried  to  the 
station,  and,  as  he  entered  the  train,  he  was  struck  dumb  with 
amazement  as  he  looked  at  himself  in  the  compartment  mir- 

“What  an  idiot  that  servant  is!”  he  cried  angrily.  “I  asked 
him  to  wake  me,  instead  he  went  and  woke  the  rabbi!” 

The  Golden  Shoes 

The  citizens  of  Chelm  met  in  council  and  decided  that  for  a 
community  like  theirs,  so  renowned  for  its  wisdom,  it  was 
only  fitting  that  it  should  have  a Chief  Sage.  So  they  elected  -a 
Chief  Sage.  But  to  their  dismay,  nobody  seemed  to  pay  any 
attention  to  him  when  he  walked  out  on  the  street,  for  he 
looked  like  any  other  ordinary  Chelm  citizen. 

So  they  bought  him  a pair  of  golden  shoes. 

“Now  everybody  will  know  that  he  is  the  Chief  Sage!”  they 

The  first  day  the  Chief  Sage  put  on  his  golden  shoes  a deep 
mud  lay  on  the  streets.  In  no  time  at  all  the  mud  covered  the 
shoes  and  it  was  impossible  to  see  that  they  were  golden. 
Therefore  nobody  knew  it  was  the  Chief  Sage.  No  attention 
was  paid  to  him. 

The  Chief  Sage  did  not  like  to  be  ignored  that  way  so  he 
went  to  complain  to  the  Council  of  Sages. 

“If  I don’t  get  some  respect  quickly  I’ll  resign!”  he 

“You’re  perfectly  right!”  the  Council  agreed.  “We’re  going 
to  do  something  drastic  about  it!  The  dignity  of  our  Chief 
Sage  must  be  protected!” 

They  therefore  ordered  for  him  a pair  of  fine  leather  shoes 
to  wear  over  the  golden  shoes.  True  enough,  when  the  Chief 
Sage  went  out  upon  the  street  the  leather  shoes  protected  the 
golden  shoes  from  the  mud,  but  since  no  one  got  a glimmer 



23V0lde“  s^oes>  how  could  they  tell  it  was  the  Chief 
Sage?  So  again  they  paid  no  attention  to  him. 

beini  ST86/’  CFieud  ?e  Chief  Sage-  “What’s  the  use  of 
De  Sage  lf  everybody  ignores  you?” 

“Trus?nILii®StrabSOlUle-ly  right!”  agreed  the  Council, 
trust  us— we  11  do  everything  to  protect  your  dignity.” 

s W /r°m  the  shoemaker  a new  pair  of  leather 

shoes  for  the  Chief  Sage.  These  were  to  have  holes  in  them. 

“ to®7  wouId  Protect  the  golden  shoes  against  the 

a°d  at  th®  same  time  would  reveal  them.  Everybody 
would  thus  be  able  to  recognize  the  Chief  Sage.  * 

,,  Unfortunately,  this  plan,  too,  miscarried.  The  mud  went 
£Tgh  ? 5 a"d  mired  the  S°Wen  shoes  as  well  as  the 

was  Ae  cS  Iberti°re’  “2“  nobody  had  any  inkIing  that  it 
fJr?  Crhief  Sage  they  Paid  no  attention  to  him,  as  usual. 
This  is  an  outrage!”  cried  the  Chief  Sage.  “I’m  humiliated 

at,dwi?n  1 W°n  t be  able  to  sbow  my  face  on  the  street!” 

When  you  are  mortified  we  are  mortified  too!”  the 

abouth ”ODSOed  him'  “Never  fear>  we  shall  do  something 

strSeTn^n,ti!he^  StUffed  thC  h°leS  in  his  ,eather  shoes  with 
sS'Jnt’  ,e,StraW  prevented  the  mud  from  entering  the 
shoes  but  the  old  trouble  was  still  there— nobody  could  get  a 

gimmer  of  the  golden  shoes.  And  again  the  Chief  Sage 
passed  ignored.  This  was  the  last  straw! 

-„S°  theJa®f?  of  Chelm  went  into  solemn  council,  once  for 

atinn  tl6tt  e the  matte.r‘  And>  after  long  and  heated  deliber- 
ation^ they  emerged  triumphantly  with  a solution 

on  ttDster  f *hey  t0,d  the  Chi6f  Sage’  “you  walk  out 
on  the  street  wearing  ordinary  leather  shoes,  but,  in  order 

that  everybody  might  know  that  you  are  the  Chief  Sage  you 
will  wear  the  golden  shoes  one  on  each  hand!” 

The  Chelm  Goat  Mystery^ 

<?helm  °nce  feI1  gravely  sick.  While  he  could 

dowp  T?*?  f°L°therS’  he  refused  t0  use  his  supernatural 
powers  for  himself— such  a saint  he  was!  So  they  had  to  do 
the  next  best  thing  and  call  the  doctor. 

the holy  man  and shook his head. 

Bad,  bad!  he  muttered  to  the  rebbitzen.  “There’s  onlv 
one  thing  that  can  help  him— a steady  supply  of  fresh  goat’s 



milk.  But  for  this  you’ve  got  to  own  a goat.  My  advice  to  you 
is:  buy  a goat.” 

So  the  rebbitzen  asked  two  of  the  rabbi’s  disciples  to  go  to 
the  next  village  and  buy  a good  nanny  goat  at  a reasonable 

“Trust  us!”  cried  the  disciples.  “We’ll  bring  you  the  best 
goat  in  goatland!” 

So  they  went  to  the  next  village  and  bought  a white  nanny 

“Are  you  sure  it’s  a good  nanny  goat?”  the  disciples  asked 
the  dealer,  just  to  make  sure. 

“Is  it  a good  nanny  goat?”  cried  the  dealer  offended. 
“Why,  it  gushes  milk  like  a fountain!” 

Delighted  with  their  purchase,  the  disciples  started  for 
home,  leading  the  goat  by  a rope. 

“With  such  an  animal  the  rabbi  will  surely  get  well!”  they 

On  the  way  they  came  to  an  inn.  Already  in  high  spirits 
the  disciples  said,  “Let’s  drink  to  the  health  of  our  rabbi  and 
his  nanny  goat!” 

So,  after  tying  their  goat  to  a post  in  the  stable,  they  went 
into  the  inn  and  ordered  some  drinks. 

Made  talkative  by  the  schnapps  they  began  to  boast  be- 
fore the  innkeeper. 

“Some  goat  we’ve  just  bought  for  our  rabbi!  It’s  positively 
the  best  goat  in  goatland — it  gushes  milk  like  a fountain! 
There  isn’t  another  like  it  in  Chelm!” 

You  don’t  say  so!”  replied  the  innkeeper  with  amazement. 

Now  this  innkeeper  was  an  irreverent  rogue;  he  had  a 
hearty  dislike  for  wonder-working  rabbis  as  well  as  for  all  the 
people  of  Chelm.  Therefore,  he  plotted  a mischievous  prank 
against  the  rabbi’s  disciples.  While  they  were  merrily  celebrat- 
ing, he  quietly  slipped  out  into  the  stable.  He  untied  the  won- 
derful white  nanny  goat  they  had  bought  and  in  its  place  he 
tied  his  own  white  billy-goat. 

When  the  disciples  had  sobered  up  a bit  they  paid  the  inn- 
keeper, untied  their  goat,  and  continued  on  their  homeward 
journey.  , 

They  arrived  in  Chelm  toward  nightfall.  In  their  eagerness 
to  show  off  their  purchase  they  ran  to  the  rabbi’s  house,  with 
the  goat  galloping  behind  them  and  a crowd  of  curious  chil- 
dren trotting  after  the  goat.  When  they  reached  the  rabbi’s 



house  the  disciples  called,  “Rebbitzen,  quick,  come  out  and 
look  at  the  wonderful  goat  we  bought  for  you!” 

“Really  a fine  goat!”  said  the  rebbitzen,  judiciously.  “The 
question  is,  does  she  give  a lot  of  milk?” 

“Don’t  ask — just  milk  her  and  you’ll  see  for  yourself!”  said 
the  disciples,  beaming. 

The  rebbitzen  went  for  a stool  and  a pot  and  sat  down  to 
milk.  She  tried  and  tried  but  no  milk  came. 

“May  such  a misfortune  happen  to  my  enemies!”  she  burst 
out  angrily.  “What  kind  of  a goat  did  you  buy?  She  doesn’t 
give  a drop!” 

“Don’t  be  so  hasty,  rebbitzen,”  they  implored  her.  “The 
Torah  says  specifically:  ‘Everything  has  to  be  done  with 
knowledge  and  with  understanding.’  Since  you  have  never 
owned  a goat  before  let’s  call  in  a goat  expert.” 

So  they  called  in  a goat  expert,  who  took  one  look  at  the 
goat  and  he  cried  out  in  surprise,  “This  is  no  nanny  goat! 
This  is  a billy-goat!” 

The  disciples  grew  bitter. 

“That  enemy  of  Israel!”  they  cried,  referring  to  the  dealer 
in  goats.  “Tomorrow  we’ll  take  this  wretched  beast  back  to 
him  and  tell  him  a thing  or  two  for  this  swindle.” 

Early  the  next  morning  the  disciples,  boiling  with  anger, 
started  out  with  the  goat.  Again  they  passed  the  wayside  inn. 

“Let’s  go  in  and  cheer  ourselves  up  with  a drink,”  one  sug- 
gested. “After  all,  we  don’t  have  to  make  ourselves  miserable 
on  account  of  a flea-bitten  goat!” 

So,  after  tying  the  goat  in  the  stable,  they  went  into  the  inn 
and  ordered  drinks. 

“What  kind  of  a swindle  do  you  suppose  that  dog  of  a goat 
dealer  put  over  on  us?”  they  said  to  the  innkeeper.  “Gave  us 
a billy  instead  of  a nanny!” 

“Tsk,  tsk!”  exclaimed  the  innkeeper  commiseratingly.  “The 
trouble  with  you  scholars  is  that  you’re  so  unworldly.  You  be- 
lieve everything  you’re  told.  Why  don’t  you  keep  your  eyes 
open  when  you  buy  something?” 

To  drown  their  humiliation  the  disciples  drank  heavily  and, 
while  they  were  at  it,  the  innkeeper  went  quietly  into  the 
stable,  removed  his  own  billy  and  in  its  place  he  tied  the 
nanny  that  he  had  taken  from  the  disciples  the  day  before. 

Through  with  their  drinking,  the  disciples  untied  their  goat 
and  departed. 

“Enemy  of  Israel!”  they  called  out  with  rage  when  they 


saw  the  goat-dealer.  “Don’t  think  you  can  swindle  honest 
folk  so  easily!” 

“What’s  wrong,  what’s  wrong?”  murmured  the  dealer  in 

“What’s  wrong?  You  said  you  sold  us  a nanny!  And  what 
do  you  suppose  we  found  when  we  got  home — a billy!” 

“I  swear,  you’re  crazy!”  cried  the  dealer  as  he  took  but  one 
look  at  the  goat. 

“Malke!”  he  called  to  his  wife.  “Just  milk  this  nanny  for 
these  fine  scholars!” 

The  woman  brought  a stool  and  a pot  and  began  to  milk 
the  goat.  The  disciples  stood  by,  their  eyes  popping  out  of 
their  heads.  There,  right  before  their  very  eyes,  the  goat  was 
streaming  milk  like  a fountain,  just  as  the  dealer  had  told 
them  she  would! 

“Nu,  schlemihls,  are  you  satisfied  now?”  he  asked  scorn- 

Muttering  their  apologies  the  rabbi’s  disciples  took  their 
goat  and  started  for  home. 

Elated,  they  burst  into  song.  When  they  passed  the  inn 
again  one  said,  “Now  we  should  really  celebrate!  Our  goat  is 
some  gusher!” 

Into  the  inn  they  went  and  ordered  a big  bottle  of 
schnapps  and,  while  they  were  drinking  to  the  health  of  the 
rabbi  and  the  goat,  sure  enough  that  rascal  of  an  innkeeper 
stole  away  and  once  more  exchanged  the  goats. 

Unsuspectingly  the  happy  disciples  returned  home.  But  the 
same  thing  happened  this  time  as  before.  When  the  rebbitzen 
sat  down  to  milk  the  goat  she  discovered  it  was  a billy! 

“There’s  witchcraft  in  this!”  cried  the  disciples  horrified. 
“With  our  own  eyes  we  saw  the  dealer’s  wife  milk  this  goat. 
We  must  tell  the  whole  story  to  the  rabbi!” 

Breathlessly  they  went  to  the  sick  rabbi  and  told  him  all 
that  had  happened. 

“It’s  clear  to  me  that  the  dealer  is  a swindler,”  was  the 
rabbi’s  judicious  opinion.  “There’s  only  one  thing  left  for  you 
to  do.  Return  immediately  to  the  dealer  with  the  goat  and 
summon  him  to  Rabbi  Shmul  in  his  town.  Demand  a signed 
document  from  the  rabbi  that  the  goat  you  finally  leave  with 
is  a nanny  and  not  a billy.” 

The  following  day,  bright  and  early,  the  disciples  started 
out  again  with  the  goat.  As  they  had  done  every  time  before 
they  went  into  the  inn  to  cheer  themselves  up.  When  he 



heard  their  story  the  innkeeper  said,  “You’re  a bunch  of 
schlemihlsl  If  your  goat  dealer  had  played  a trick  on  me  like 
that  I’d  have  broken  every  bone  in  his  body!” 

“Never  fear!”  promised  the  disciples.  “We’ll  fix  him  so  he’ll 
see  his  dead  grandmother!” 

And,  while  they  were  drinking  to  give  themselves  courage 
for  the  final  encounter  with  the  goat-dealer,  the  sly  innkeeper 
again  exchanged  the  goats. 

The  disciples  left  in  high  spirits  to  call  on  the  dealer. 

“Swindler!”  they  cried.  “Do  you  expect  us  to  spend  the  rest 
of  our  lives  travelling  from  Chelm  to  your  cursed  village  with 
this  miserable  animal?  Here’s  your  goat.  Now  show  us,  before 
we  make  you  join  your  dead  grandmother,  how  much  millr 
you  can  squeeze  out  of  your  gusher!” 

Without  a word  the  dealer  sat  down  and  milked  the  ani- 

The  disciples  looked  on  stunned.  They  could  hardly  believe 
their  eyes.  The  milk  was  pouring  into  the  pot  in  a foaming 

“To  your  rabbi!  Take  us  to  your  rabbi!”  they  now  de- 
manded. “We  want  a document  from  him  that  this  is  a genu- 
ine nanny!” 

The  goat-dealer  shrugged  his  shoulders  disdainfully  and 
went  with  them  to  the  rabbi  who  carefully  examined  the  goat 
and  pronounced  it  a nanny.  He  gave  them  a signed  and 
sealed  document  attesting  to  that  effect. 

Now  the  disciples  were  certain  that  all  their  troubles  were 
over,  so  they  started  for  home  in  a merry  mood.  To  crown 
their  triumph  they  again  went  into  the  inn  for  a round  of 
drinks.  Once  more  the  innkeeper  exchanged  the  goats. 

When  the  disciples  reached  the  rabbi’s  house,  they  cried 
joyfully,  "Rebbitzen!  Just  come  out  and  see!  It’s  a genuine 
nanny  this  time.  Here  you  have  Rabbi  Shmul’s  written  word 
for  it!” 

Eagerly  the  rebbitzen  ran  for  her  pot  and  stool  and  sat 
down  to  milk  the  goat.  With  a cry  she  leaped  up  and 
screamed,  “Numskulls!  Lunatics!  What  sort  of  game  do  you 
think  you’re  playing  with  me?” 

She  then  made  them  go  with  her  to  the  rabbi’s  room. 

“Here  you  have  Rabbi  Shmul’s  document!”  cried  the  disci- 
ples in  bewilderment.  ‘Tell  us,  what  does  all  this  mean?  Do 
you  perhaps  see  the  Evil  Eye  in  it,  Rabbi?” 

“Bring  me  my  spectacles!”  ordered  the  rabbi. 


They  brought  him  his  spectacles.  He  put  them  on  and  care- 
fully read  Rabbi  Shmul’s  document. 

For  a long  time  the  rabbi  sat  deliberating,  his  brow  fur- 
rowed, his  eyes  far  away.  Then  he  spoke,  “This  is  my  opin- 
ion: Rabbi  Shmul  is  a wise  and  upright  man.  He  never  writes 
anything  that  is  not  true.  If  he  tells  us  that  the  goat  is  a 
nanny  you  can  rest  assured  that  it  is  not  a billy.  Now,  you 
will  ask:  how  is  it  that  the  goat  he  tells  us  is  a nanny  turns 
out  to  be  a billy?  The  answer  is  very  simple:  true,  the  goat  he 
examined  and  testified  to  was  a nanny.  But  such  is  the  con- 
founded luck  of  us  Chelm  schlimazls  that,  by  the  time  a 
nanny  goat  finally  reaches  our  town,  it’s  sure  to  turn  into  a 

Innocence  and  Arithmetic 

A young  scholar  of  Chelm,  innocent  in  the  ways  of  earthly 
matters,  was  stunned  one  morning  when  his  wife  gave  birth. 
Pell-mell  he  ran  to  the  rabbi. 

“Rabbi,”  he  blurted  out,  “an  extraordinary  thing  has  hap- 
pened! Please  explain  it  to  me!  My  wife  has  just  given  birth 
although  we  have  been  married  only  three  months!  How  can 
this  be?  Everybody  knows  it  takes  nine  months  for  a baby  to 
be  bom!” 

The  rabbi,  a world-renowned  sage,  put  on  his  silver- 
rimmed  spectacles  and  furrowed  his  brow  reflectively. 

“My  son,”  he  said,  “I  see  you  haven’t  the  slightest  idea 
about  such  matters,  nor  can  you  make  the  simplest  calcula- 
tion. Let  me  ask  you:  Have  you  lived  with  your  wife  three 


“Has  she  lived  with  you  three  months?” 


‘Together — have  you  lived  three  months?" 


“What’s  the  total  then — three  months  plus  three  plus 

“Nine  months.  Rabbi!” 

‘Then  why  do  you  come  to  bother  me  with  your  foolish 

222  the  human  comedy 

By  the  Beard  of  His  Mother 

A young  man  from  Chelm,  who  was  studying  to  be  a sage, 
felt  very  much  troubled  in  mind.  So  he  went  to  the  Chief 
Sage  and  asked  him,  “Perhaps  you  can  tell  me  why  no  hair  is 
growing  on  my  chin?  Now  it  couldn’t  be  heredity— or  could 
it?  Take  my  father — you  know  what  a fine  thick  beard  he 

The  Chief  Sage  reflectively  stroked  his  beard  for  a while 
and  then  his  face  lit  up. 

“Perhaps  you  take  after  your  mother!”  he  suggested. 

“That  must  be  it,  since  my  mother  has  no  beard!”  cried  the 
youth  with  admiration.  “What  a sage  you  are!” 

The  Great  Chelm  Controversy 

Although  the  Jews  of  Chelm  loved  their  rabbi,  he  remained 
aloof  from  the  populace,  as  a wonder-working  rabbi  should. 
They  hardly  ever  saw  him.  That’s  why  nobody  knew  for  cer- 
tain whether  he  had  a head  or  not. 

One  day  the  rabbi  disappeared  and  all  the  people  of  Chelm 
went  searching  for  him.  They  looked  high  and  low,  but  found 
no  trace  of  the  rabbi.  Finally,  one  searching  party  found  a 
headless  body  in  the  woods.  So  the  sages  were  sent  for.  They 
examined  the  body  carefully,  reflected  and  reflected.  Then  up 
spoke  the  Chief  Sage,  “This  is  indeed  very  puzzling!  If  the 
rabbi  had  a head,  then  it’s  clear  that  this  is  not  his  body.” 

“On  the  other  hand,”  another  sage  took  exception,  “if  the 
rabbi  didn’t  have  a head  then  it’s  certain,  as  my  name  is 
Shabsi,  that  this  is  his  body!” 

“We  must  clear  up  this  point!”  insisted  the  Chief  Sage. 
“Let  us  question  the  shammes  who  always  waited  on  the 

So  they  called  the  shammes. 

“Reb  Todros,”  they  asked,  “do  you  know  whether  our 
rabbi  had  a head?” 

Reb  Todros  knitted  his  forehead.  He  thought  and  he 
thought  and  finally  he  said,  “God  preserve  us  all!  I don’t 
know  what  to  tell  you.  You  know  what  kind  of  a man  our 
rabbi  was.  He  was  always  wrapped  up  in  his  prayer-shawl, 
like  the  saint  he  was.  Therefore,  I never  saw  anything  of  him 
but  his  feet.  How  should  I know  whether  this  is  his  body?” 

“Let  the  bathman  be  questioned  now,”  ordered  the  Chief 



So  the  bathman  stepped  forward. 

‘Tell  us,  my  good  man,  do  you  know  whether  our  rabbi 
had  a head?”  he  was  asked. 

The  bathman  shook  his  head  doubtfully. 

“For  the  life  of  me  I can’t  tell  whether  our  rabbi  had  a 
head  or  not!  The  only  time  I ever  saw  him  was  in  the  steam- 
bath  where  he  would  lie  sweating  on  the  topmost  bench. 
When  I scourged  him  with  birch-twigs  I could  only  see  his 
backside.  So  how  do  you  expect  me  to  know  whether  this  is 
our  rabbi?” 

“This  is  bad!  A very  knotty  problem  indeed!”  cried  the 

“Let  us  call  on  the  rebbitzenl”  suggested  the  Chief  Sage. 
“She  should  know!” 

“An  excellent  idea!”  echoed  his  colleagues,  and  they  went 
to  see  the  rabbi’s  wife. 

They  found  her  drenched  in  tears. 

“What  a saint  my  dear  husband  was!”  she  lamented.  “As  a 
wonder-working  rabbi  there  wasn’t  his  like  in  the  whole 
world.  He  himself  told  me  his  soul  went  up  to  heaven  every 

“We  know,  we  know  all  that!”  the  Chief  Sage  interrupted 
her  impatiently.  “What  we  should  like  to  know  is  whether  he 
had  a head  or  not.” 

“A  head,  did  you  say?”  asked  the  rebbitzen,  drying  her 
tears.  “Now  let  me  think!  The  only  thing  I’m  certain  of  is 
that  he  had  a nose  because  he  used  to  take  snuff.  But  whether 
he  had  a head  or  not  only  the  Lord  knows!” 

And  so  what  do  you  think  happened?  All  Chelm  became 
divided  into  two  hostile  camps;  one  maintained  heatedly  that 
the  rabbi  did  have  a head— the  other  just  as  heatedly  argued 
that  he  didn’t. 

Now,  I ask  you  Reb  Jew,  what’s  your  opinion? 


“Which  is  more  important,  the  sun  or  the  moon?”  a citizen 
of  Chelm  asked  his  rabbi. 

‘The  moon,  of  course,”  replied  the  rabbi.  “It  shines  at 
night,  when  it  is  needed.  The  sun  shines  only  during  the  day, 
when  there  is  no  need  of  it  at  all!” 



Wet  Logic 

A sage  of  Chelm  went  bathing  in  the  lake  and  almost 
drowned.  When  he  raised  an  outcry  other  swimmers  came  to 
his  rescue.  As  he  was  helped  out  of  the  water  he  took  a 
solemn  oath : “I  swear  never  to  go  into  the  water  again  until  I 
learn  how  to  swim!” 

Can  This  Be  I? 

A man  of  Chelm,  having  concluded  that  people  could  be  dis- 
tinguished from  one  another  only  by  their  clothing,  began  to 
fear  lest  one  day  he  be  lost  in  the  bathhouse,  where  all  are 
naked  and  therefore  indistinguishable  one  from  the  other.  To 
guard  against  such  a risk  he  tied  a string  around  his  leg. 

Unfortunately  the  string  came  loose,  and  he  lost  it  An- 
other man  of  Chelm  found  it  and,  perhaps  disturbed  by  the 
same  fear,  fastened  it  around  his  own  leg. 

This  first  man  noticed  the  second  as  both  were  emerging  to 
dress.  “Woe  is  me,”  he  cried,  “if  this  fellow  is  me,  who  am 

The  Columbus  of  Chelm 

In  the  town  of  Chelm  there  lived  a man  whose  name  was 
Reb  Selig.  He  was  a sage,  but  a restless  one.  He  had  the  wan- 
derlust in  his  blood  and  always  dreamed  of  seeing  the  world. 
But,  since  he  was  a sage,  he  was  poor,  so  he  could  never  af- 
ford to  travel  abroad  like  the  rich  merchants  in  the  town. 

One  day,  a Chelm  merchant  returned  from  a visit  to  War- 
saw. That  day,  and  every  day  thereafter  for  a week,  one 
could  hear  nothing  else  talked  about  in  Chelm  except  the 
wonders  of  Warsaw  that  the  merchant  had  described  so  vivid- 
ly. No  one  listened  more  raptly  than  Reb  Selig. 

From  that  time  on  he  walked  about  like  one  possessed, 
filled  with  only  one  desire:  to  see  Warsaw.  He  could  neither 
eat  nor  sleep  nor  find  rest  for  himself.  His  wife  was  per- 
plexed; she  didn’t  know  what  had  come  over  her  Selig. 

One  morning  he  arose  and  said  to  her  with  a faraway  look 
in  his  eyes,  “I’ve  got  to  go  to  Warsaw!” 

“What  for?”  - 

“I  hear  it’s  a wonderful  city!” 

“But  you  have  no  money.” 

“I’ll  walk.” 



“But  you’ll  wear  out  your  shoes.” 

“I’ll  walk  barefoot  and  carry  them  in  my  hand.” 

“You’ve  gone  out  of  your  mind,  Selig!” 

“I’ve  got  to  see  Warsaw!”  Reb  Selig  insisted. 

So  he  put  some  bread  and  cheese  in  a knapsack  and  threw 
it  over  his  shoulder.  He  took  up  his  oak  stick  and,  with  his 
shoes  in  his  hands,  he  started  out  for  the  great  city. 

Reb  Selig  hastened  along  borne  on  wings.  He  didn’t  mind 
at  all  that  he  was  barefoot  and  that  the  sharp  pebbles  pricked 
the  soles  of  his  feet.  He  sang  all  the  way  and  was  filled  with 
joy  thinking  that  soon  his  eyes  would  feast  on  the  wonders  of 

When  the  sun  stood  high  in  the  sky  Reb  Selig  began  to  feel 
the  pangs  of  hunger.  He  sat  down  in  the  shade  of  a tree  at  a 
fork  of  the  road.  He  ate  his  noonday  meal  of  bread  and 
cheese.  Then,  feeling  drowsy,  he  decided  to  take  a short  nap 
in  order  to  refresh  himself.  But  before  doing  that,  he  wanted 
to  make  sure  that  he  would  continue  on  the  right  road  when 
he  awoke. 

“Now,  let  me  see,”  he  said  to  himself.  “I’m  at  the  fork  of 
two  roads;  one  goes  to  Warsaw  and  the  other  goes  back  to 
Chelm.  I must  make  sure  to  take  the  one  to  Warsaw  and  not 
the  one  back  to  Chelm.” 

So  he  took  his  shoes  and  placed  them  on  the  road  with  the 
toes  facing  Warsaw.  “When  I awake  I’ll  be  sure  to  take  the 
right  road,”  he  thought 

Pleased  with  his  cleverness  he  stretched  his  length  on  the 
grass  and  went  to  sleep. 

Ai,  what  a sleep  that  was!  It  was  the  sleep  of  the  blessed, 
like  that  of  the  Patriarch  Jacob  when  he  saw  angels  in  his 
dream!  And  while  Reb  Selig  slept  so  soundly,  so  sweetly,  a 
peasant  came  jogging  along  in  his  cart.  When  the  peasant  saw 
the  pair  of  shoes  in  the  road  he  said  to  himself:  “What  luck! 
Here’s  a pair  of  shoes  sitting  like  orphans  in  the  road!” 

So  he  stopped  his  horse,  climbed  off  the  cart  and  picked  up 
the  shoes. 

“The  black  cholera  take  them!”  he  murmured.  “They’re  not 
shoes — they’re  so  full  of  holes  they’re  sieves!” 

So  he  dropped  the  shoes,  but,  in  dropping  them;  they  fell 
with  the  toes  facing  Chelm. 

After  a while  Reb  Selig  awoke.  Recalling  where  he  was  he 
jumped  up,  eager  to  continue  on  his  journey. 

“How  clever  of  me,”  he  gloated,  “to  have  had  the  foresight 



to  place  my  shoes  with  their  toes  pointing  toward  Warsaw. 
Now  I just  can’t  go  wrong!” 

And  he  continued  on  his  journey. 

Soon  he  came  in  sight  of  the  city.  Selig  hastened  his  foot- 
steps. As  he  passed  through  the  streets  he  couldn’t  help  mar- 
velling at  the  strange  appearance  of  things,  at  the  houses,  the 
streets  and  the  people. 

“As  I live  and  breathe!”  he  cried.  “Warsaw  isn’t  as  big  as  I 
expected  it  to  be.  Why  it  looks  exactly  like  Chelm,  like  two 
peas  in  a pod!” 

He  continued  on  his  way  and,  as  he  passed  the  bathhouse, 
a man  sitting  at  the  door  greeted  him  amiably  with  a 
“Sholom  aleicheml”  Selig  responded  with  a hearty,  “Aleichem 

“As  my  name  is  Selig,”  he  muttered  to  himself,  “this  man 
looks  like  Fishel  the  bathman  way  back  in  Chelm,  and  the 
bathhouse  looks  like  ours,  too!  What  can  it  all  mean?” 

Soon  he  came  to  the  synagogue. 

“This  is  an  exact  copy  of  ours  in  Chelm!”  he  thought  in 

Out  of  force  of  habit  he  went  inside. 

What  he  saw  there  made  his  hair  stand  on  end. 

“If  I didn’t  know  that  I was  in  Warsaw  I could  swear  that 
the  people  here  are  all  my  fellow  townsmen!”  he  muttered  to 

And,  as  he  stood  gaping,  the  shammes,  hurrying  by,  el- 
bowed him  aside  and  stepped  on  his  corns. 

“Out  of  my  way!”  he  cried. 

“As  there’s  a God  in  Heaven,”  Selig  said  to  himself  not  be- 
lieving his  own  senses,  “this  shammes  not  only  looks  like  our 
shammes  in  Chelm  but  he  even  talks  and  acts  like  him! 
Strange,  very  strange.” 

Reb  Selig  left  the  synagogue  full  of  bewilderment. 

“What  can  all  this  mean?”  he  asked  himself,  anxiously.  He 
was  so  wrapped  up  in  his  thoughts  that  he  did  not  realize 
where  he  was  going.  Suddenly  he  looked  up  and  found  him- 
self walking  on  a very  familiar  street. 

So  help  me  God!”  he  cried.  “Why  this  looks  like  my  own 
street!  So  this  is  Warsaw?  What  a disappointment!  Did  I have 
to  go  to  all  this  trouble  to  come  here  only  to  see  a street  that 
looks  exactly  like  my  own?” 

In  front  of  a house  that  also  looked  like  his  own  he  saw 
some  children  rolling  hickory  nuts  into  a hole. 



“May  I break  hands  and  feet  if  that  is  not  my  Moishele 
playing  there!” 

At  that  very  moment  a woman  stuck  her  head  out  of  a 
window  and  cried: 

“Selig,  why  do  you  stand  there  right  in  the  middle  of  the 
street  with  your  mouth  open  like  an  idiot?  Come  in — dinner 
is  ready!” 

Selig  marvelled:  He  could  have  sworn  the  woman  was  like 
a twin  sister  of  his  wife,  Leah!  Spoke  exactly  the  same  way 
too!  Besides,  had  she  not  called  him  Selig?  Indeed,  he  had  to 
get  to  the  bottom  of  it  all.  So  he  went  inside  and  pretended 
he  was  her  husband  Selig. 

Sure  enough,  the  house  was  furnished  just  like  his  own!  He 
sat  down  to  dinner.  Just  as  he  had  expected — the  roast  was 
burnt,  the  same  way  his  wife  Leah  burned  it. 

“The  only  conclusion  I can  come  to,”  finally  decided  Reb 
Selig,  “is  that  Warsaw  is  exactly  like  Chelm,  down  to  the  last 
detail.  True,  this  is  a house  that  looks  like  my  own,  a woman 
like  my  wife  and  a little  boy  like  my  Moishele,  and  her  hus- 
band’s name  is  Selig.  But  I know  very  well  that  they  are  not 

So  Reb  Selig  sat  thoughtfully  at  table  and  began  to  feel 
very  homesick  for  his  own  little  family  in  Chelm. 

“What  bothers  me  though,”  he  decided  finally,  “is  whether 
the  Warsaw  Selig  that  lives  in  this  house  is  also  exactly  like 
me.  I know  already  that  his  name  is  Selig  and  that  he  looks 
like  me.  The  question  is:  who  and  where  is  he?” 

And  so  Reb  Selig,  provided  he’s  still  living,  is  waiting  to 
this  very  day,  with  characteristic  Chelm  patience,  for  the  ar- 
rival of  the  other  Selig — the  Selig  of  Warsaw. 

To  such  lengths  do  the  sages  of  Chelm  go  in  order  to  es- 
tablish the  truth! 

Food  Out  of  the  Horse’s  Mouth 

A merchant  from  Chelm  drove  to  market  in  a neighboring 

“What  are  you  selling?”  asked  a prospective  customer. 

Bending  over  confidentially,  the  merchant  whispered  in  his 
ear:  “Oats.” 

“Oats?”  the  customer  asked  in  astonishment.  “What  the 
devil’s  the  secret  then?” 



“Sh-sh!”  cautioned  the  merchant  of  Chelm.  “Not  so  loud!  I 
don  t want  the  horse  to  know!” 

A Sage  Question 

A Was  examinin8  a horse  in  the  marketplace  of  Chelm. 

Thus  is  a wonderful  horse!”  the  horse-dealer  went  into 
raptures.  He  gallops  like  the  wind!  Imagine,  if  you  leave 
Chelm  with  him  at  three  in  the  morning  you’d  get  to  Lublin 
st  six! 

The  sage  looked  doubtful. 

• ‘3?at  °°  frth  wi'1  I do  in  Lublin  so  early  in  the  mom- 
mg/  he  asked,  scratching  his  head. 

Chelm  Justice 

A G*!EATi  calamity  befell  Chelm  one  day.  The  town  cobbler 
murdered  one  of  his  customers.  So  he  was  brought  before  the 
judge  who  sentenced  him  to  die  by  hanging. 

When  the  verdict  was  read  a townsman  arose  and  cried 
ouy  i your  Honor  pleases — you  have  sentenced  to  death 
the  town  cobbler!  He’s  the  only  one  we’ve  got.  If  you  hang 
him  who  will  mend  our  shoes?”  y S 

voice^07  Wh°?”  Cried  aU  1116  Pe°Ple  of  Chelm  with  one 

The  judge  nodded  in  agreement  and  reconsidered  his  ver- 

Good  people  of  Chelm,”  he  said,  “what  you  say  is  true. 
Since  we  have  only  one  cobbler  it  would  be  a great  wrong 
against  the  community  to  let  him  die.  As  there  are  two 
roofers  m the  town  let  one  of  them  be  hanged  instead!” 

Pure  Science 

Two  sages  of  Chelm  got  involved  in  a deep  philosophical  argu- 

“Since  you’re  so  wise,”  said  one,  sarcastically,  “try  to  an- 
swer  tfus  cjuestion:  Why  is  it  that  when  a slice  of  buttered 

side?”  faUS  thC  gr°UDd’  ifs  bound  t0  fal1  on  the  buttered 

But  as  the  other  sage  was  a bit  of  a scientist  he  decided  to 
thl.s.  theory  by  a practical  experiment.  He  went  and 
buttered  a slice  of  bread.  Then  he  dropped  it. 

“There  you  are!”  he  cried  triumphantly.  “The  bread,  as 



you  see,  hasn’t  fallen  on  its  buttered  side  at  all.  So  where  is 
your  theory  now?” 

“Ho-ho!”  laughed  the  other,  derisively.  “You  think  you’re 
smart!  You  buttered  the  bread  on  the  wrong  side!” 

Overcoming  Messiah 

Itzik  the  landowner,  a leading  citizen  of  Chelm,  startled  his 
wife,  Chashe,  by  storming  into  the  house  with  the  news  that 
the  Messiah  was  coming — was  at  that  very  moment  only  a 
few  hours  from  Chelm. 

But  the  news  dismayed  Itzik  somewhat.  “I  have  only  re- 
cently built  this  home,  and  have  invested  our  funds  in  cattle, 
and  besides,  I have  just  finished  sowing  our  crops!” 

Chashe  calmed  him,  declaring  philosophically,  “Don’t 
worry!  Think  of  the  trials  and  tribulations  our  people  have 
met  and  survived — the  bondage  in  Egypt,  the  wickedness  of 
Haman,  the  persecutions  and  pogroms  without  end.  All  of 
these  the  good  Lord  has  helped  us  overcome,  and  with  just  a 
little  more  help  from  Him,  we  will  overcome  the  Messiah, 

The  Umbrella 

Two  sages  of  Chelm  went  out  for  a walk.  One  carried  an 
umbrella,  the  other  didn’t.  Suddenly,  it  began  to  rain. 

“Open  your  umbrella,  quick!”  suggested  the  one  without  an 

“It  won’t  help,”  answered  the  other. 

“What  do  you  mean,  it  won’t  help?  It  will  protect  us  from 
the  rain.” 

“It’s  no  use,  the  umbrella  is  as  full  of  holes  as  a sieve.” 
“Then  why  did  you  take  it  along  in  the  first  place?” 

“I  didn’t  think  it  would  rain.” 

Excavation  in  Chelm 

The  citizens  of  Chelm  were  digging  a foundation  for  a new 
synagogue  when  one  of  them  suddenly  paused  in  his  labors, 
rested  on  his  spade,  and  began  to  stroke  his  beard.  “What  are 
we  going  to  do,”  he  asked  of  no  one  in  particular,  “with  all 
this  earth  we’re  digging  up?” 

“I  never  thought  of  that,”  said  another.  “What,  indeed,  are 
we  going  to  do  with  it?” 


the  human  comedy 

“Ah,  I know,”  the  first  went  on,  “we  will  make  a pit,  and 
into  it  we’ll  put  all  this  earth  we’re  digging  up  for  our 

wdt  a minute,”  said  the  other,  “that  doesn’t  solve  it 
at  all.  What  will  we  do  with  the  earth  from  the  pit?” 

“I’ll  tell  you  what,”  said  the  first,  “we’ll  dig  another  pit, 
twice  as  big  as  the  first,  and  into  it  we’ll  shovel  all  the  earth 
we  re  diggmg  now,  and  all  the  earth  from  the  first  pit!” 
Whereupon,  both  went  back  to  their  digging. 

The  Worriers  of  Chelm 

The  people  of  Chelm  were  worriers.  So  they  called  a meeting 
to  do  something  about  the  problem  of  worry.  A motion  was 
duly  made  and  seconded  to  the  effect  that  Yossel,  the  cob- 
bler, be  retained  by  the  community  as  a whole,  to  do  its 
worrying,  and  that  his  fee  be  one  ruble  per  week. 

The  motion  was  about  to  carry,  all  speeches  having  been 
tor  the  affirmative,  when  one  sage  propounded  the  fatal  ques- 
tion: If  Yossel  earned  a ruble  a week,  what  would  he  have 
to  worry  about?” 

The  Safeguard 

To  the  scandal  of  Chelm  the  poor  box  was  stolen  from  the 
synagogue.  So  it  was  unanimously  resolved  that  a new  poor 
box  be  prepared,  and  suspended  from  the  ceiling  of  the 
synagogue  entrance  hall,  but  so  close  to  the  ceiling  that  no 
ffiief  would  ever  be  able  to  reach  it  Satisfied  that  a crisis  had 
been  averted,  the  people  dispersed  congratulating  each  other 
on  a sage  decision. 

But  soon  the  shammes  raised  a new  problem.  “It  is  true  ” 
he  declared,  “that  the  new  box  is  safe  from  thieves,  but  it  is 
out  of  reach  also  of  the  charitable!  No  one  at  all  can  reach 

But  no  problem  was  too  discouraging  for  the  wisdom  of 
Chelm.  It  was  promptly  decreed  that  a ladder  be  built 
reaching  to  the  poor  box,  so  that  the  charitable  might  get  to 
it,  and  that,  lest  any  pious  citizen  be  hurt,  the  ladder  be  per- 
manently and  immovably  fastened  to  both  floor  and  ceiling! 



The  Discreet  Shammes 

A man  died  suddenly  in  Chelm  while  doing  business  in  the 
market-place.  So  the  rabbi  sent  the  shammes  to  the  dead 
man’s  wife. 

“Be  careful,”  he  cautioned  him,  “and  break  the  news  to 
her  as  gently  as  possible!” 

The  shammes  knocked.  A woman  came  to  the  door. 

“Does  the  widow  Rachel  live  here?”  he  asked. 

“I’m  Rachel,  and  I live  here,”  replied  the  woman,  “but  I’m 
no  widow.” 

“Ha!  Ha!”  laughed  the  shammes,  triumphantly.  “How  much 
do  you  want  to  bet  you  are?” 

A Riddle 

Once  on  a visit  to  Berditchev  a certain  sage  of  Chelm  joined 
a circle  of  kibbitzers  around  the  synagogue  stove  while  wait- 
ing for  the  services  to  begin.  Seeing  a stranger,  the  shammes 
tried  to  entertain  him,  so  he  put  to  him  the  following  riddle: 
“Who  is  it— he’s  my  father’s  son,  yet  he’s  not  my  brother?” 

The  sage  of  Chelm  racked  his  brains  for  the  answer  but  in 

“I  give  up!”  he  said  finally.  “Now  tell  me — who  is  it?” 

“Why,  it’s  me!”  replied  the  shammes,  triumphantly. 

The  sage  of  Chelm  was  amazed  by  the  cleverness  of  the 
riddle  and  when  he  returned  home  he  lost  no  time  in  assem- 
bling all  the  other  sages. 

“My  masters,”  he  began  gravely,  stroking  his  long  gray 
beard  reflectively,  “I  am  going  to  put  to  you  a riddle  and  see 
if  you  can  answer  it.  Who  is  it — he’s  my  father’s  son,  yet  he’s 
not  my  brother?” 

The  sages  of  Chelm  were  greatly  perplexed.  They  thought 
and  thought  and  finally  said:  “We  give  up!  Tell  us!  Who  is 

“He’s  the  shammes  in  the  Berditchev  synagogue!”  the  sage 
announced  triumphantly. 


Two  sages  of  Chelm  were  tangled  up  in  deep  argument. 

“What  I would  like  to  know,”  asked  one,  “is  why  the  Czar 
has  to  collect  from  me  a ruble  for  taxes.  Hasn’t  he  got  a mint 
of  his  own?  Surely  he  can  make  as  many  rubles  as  he  likes.” 



“What  a silly  argument  for  a sage!”  his  colleague  mocked 
at  him.  “Now  take  a Jew:  every  time  he  does  a good  deed  he 
creates  an  angel.  So  you  will  ask:  why  on  earth  does  God 
need  your  good  deed  in  order  to  add  one  more  angel  to  the 
millions  of  angels  that  are  already  in  Heaven?  Surely,  He’s 
fully  capable  Himself  of  creating  as  many  angels  as  He  likes! 
Then  why  doesn’t  He  do  so?  Simply  because  He  prefers  your 
angel.  The  same  thing  is  true  about  taxes.  Of  course  the  Czar 
can  make  as  many  rubles  as  he  likes;  but,  you  see,  he  prefers 
to  take  your  ruble!” 

The  Affair  of  the  Rolling  Trunk 

A melamed  once  lived  on  top  of  the  hill  on  Synagogue  Street 
in  Chelm,  and  he  was  a great  schlimazl.  Everything  turned 
for  him,  as  the  saying  goes,  “buttered  side  down.”  It  was 
therefore  with  a nagging  envy  that  he  watched  the  rich 
people  of  Chelm  having  all  the  good  things  in  life,  while  he, 
poor  schlimazl,  had  to  dine  daily  on  a dry  crust  of  bread  and 
an  onion. 

One  day,  he  said  wistfully  to  his  wife,  “Leah-Zoshe,  my 
heart,  I can  no  longer  endure  bread  and  onion;  it’s  already 
crawling  out  of  my  gullet.  It’s  about  time  we  had  a little 
pleasure,  just  like  the  rich.  Let’s  put  money  by  for  a cake,  the 
kind  we  tasted  at  the  wedding  of  the  rabbi’s  daughter,  full  of 
honey  and  delicious  raisins  and  almonds.” 

The  idea  pleased  Leah-Zoshe  no  end.  “Good — I have  a 
plan!”  she  said  eagerly.  “You  know  my  grandmother’s  large 
trunk  with  the  four  wheels  up  in  the  garret.  Let’s  make  a 
little  hole  in  it.  Every  Friday  afternoon  before  you  go  to  the 
mikveh  you  drop  in  a kopek.  I will  do  the  same  before  I light 
the  Sabbath  candles.  In  that  way,  by  the  time  Shevuos  comes 
around,  we’ll  have  enough  money  to  make  a cake  that  will 
melt  in  your  mouth.” 

On  the  first  Friday  the  melamed  and  his  wife  dutifully 
dropped  into  the  trunk  a kopek  each.  But  when  the  second 
Friday  came  around  the  melamed,  who  was  a profound 
scholar,  thought  the  matter  over  in  this  wise.  “Fool  that  I am! 
What’s  the  earthly  use  of  dropping  in  kopek  after  kopek  in 
this  trunk?  Surely  Leah-Zoshe,  that  faithful  old  soul,  will 
keep  dropping  in  kopeks  regularly  so  that  we’ll  soon  have 
money  for  a wonderful  cake  without  my  contributions.  I can 
use  the  money  for  other  things.” 



So  the  melamed  stopped  his  contributions. 

Now  Leah-Zoshe  was  so  smart  she  could  even  have  been  a 
rebbitzen.  “If  God  gave  you  a head,  Leah-Zoshe,  use  it!”  she 
admonished  herself.  “After  all  I’m  only  a poor  yiddena!  Must 
I bother  my  head  with  kopeks?  That’s  a man’s  job!  I have 
enough  trouble  as  it  is  to  make  ends  meet  on  the  ten  rubles  a 
month  that  schlimazl  gives  me  for  household  expenses.  There 
are  important  things  for  which  I can  use  my  kopeks.  In  any 
case  what  do  we  need  so  many  kopeks  for?  The  kopeks  Men- 
del drops  in  will  be  enough,  I’m  sure.” 

So  she  too  stopped  her  contributions. 

Several  days  before  Shevuos  Mendel  the  melamed  and 
Leah-Zoshe  his  wife  decided  it  was  time  to  open  the  trunk 
and  take  out  all  the  kopeks. 

“Ai,  what  a cake  that’ll  be!”  exclaimed  Mendel  rap- 
turously. “It  will  have  all  the  tastes  of  the  Garden  of  Eden!” 
And  Mendel  sighed  contentedly  and  smacked  his  lips  as  if  he 
had  already  eaten  the  cake. 

With  great  ceremony  Mendel  unlocked  the  trunk.  Carefully 
he  lifted  the  lid  and  peered  inside. 

"Gewalt!”  he  cried,  turning  pale.  “We’re  robbed!” 

Leah-Zoshe  quickly  stuck  her  head  into  the  trunk  and  ex- 
claimed, “Tateniul  They  left  us  only  two  kopeks,  the  rascals!” 

Then  suddenly  a dark  thought  clouded  her  mind.  “Schli- 
mazl,” she  cried,  “tell  me  the  truth!  Did  you  drop  more  than 
one  kopek  into  the  trunk?” 

“What  do  you  take  me  for,  a fool?”  retorted  Mendel.  “Of 
course  not.  I figured  your  kopeks  would  be  enough.  Now  that 
you  have  mentioned  it,  my  fine  shrew,  what  happened  to 
your  kopeks?” 

“My  kopeks?  What  do  you  mean,  my  kopeks?  If  you  were 
honest  enough  to  put  in  yours  we  wouldn’t  have  needed 

At  this  both  became  inflamed  with  anger  at  each  other  and 
they  set  to  with  a right  good  will  so  that  their  cries  could  be 
heard  all  the  way  down  Synagogue  Street.  In  the  scuffle. 
Mendel  lost  his  balance  and  fell  into  the  trunk,  pulling  Leah- 
Zoshe  with  him. 

And  before  you  could  say  “Constantinople”  the  lid  had 
snapped  shut  on  them!  However,  in  their  frantic  struggle  to 
get  out  they  set  the  trunk  in  motion  on  its  four  wheels.  The 
door  of  their  little  cottage  being  open,  for  it  was  a balmy 



day,  the  trunk  rolled  through  the  doorway  with  the  greatest 
of  ease  and  down  the  hill  into  Synagogue  Street. 

“Gewalt!  Gewalt!"  Unearthly  voices  issued  from  the  trunk 
as  it  rolled  toward  the  synagogue. 

Women  shrieked,  children  bawled  and  all  the  dogs  of 
Chelm  ran  barking  madly  after  it. 

“It  surely  must  be  a demon!”  commented  the  Chief  Sage  as 
the  trunk  whirled  by  him  and  he  heard  the  muffled  cries  in- 
side it. 

The  trunk’s  wild  journey  came  suddenly  to  an  end  in  front 
of  the  synagogue.  By  this  time  all  of  Chelm  had  gathered 
around  it,  gaping  with  curiosity. 

“Fetch  Berl  the  locksmith!”  ordered  the  Chief  Sage  in  a 
voice  of  authority.  “All  together  we’ll  drive  this  demon  out!” 

And  so,  after  chanting  appropriate  incantations,  the  lock 
was  pried  open  by  Berl  the  locksmith  and,  more  dead  than 
alive,  out  peered  Mendel  the  melamed  and  his  wife  Leah- 

“Heaven  preserve  us,  look  who’s  here!”  the  people  of 
Chelm  cried. 

The  runaway  trunk  had  so  frightened  the  people  of  Chelm 
that  in  response  to  the  general  clamor,  the  Chief  Sage  was 
obliged  to  call  a special  meeting  of  all  the  sages  of  Chelm. 

After  long  and  judicious  deliberation  they  resolved  that 
never  again  must  such  an  unseemly  thing  happen  in  their 
town.  To  make  their  decision  effective  and  binding  forever 
upon  all  future  generations  of  Chelmites  they  passed  the  fol- 
lowing laws: 

1.  That  every  door  in  Chelm  had  to  be  provided  with  a 
high  threshold. 

2.  That  no  melamed  could  ever  live  on  Synagogue  Street 

3.  That  henceforth  no  trunk  could  have  any  wheels. 

The  Secret  of  Growing 

Two  sages  of  Chelm  sat  around  the  synagogue  stove  on  a 
cold  winter  day.  They  debated  heatedly  over  the  following 
question:  at  which  end  does  a human  being  grow? 

“What  a question!”  cried  one.  “Any  fool  knows  that  a man 
grows  from  his  feet  up.” 

“Give  me  proof,”  demanded  the  other. 

Several  years  ago  I bought  myself  a pair  of  pants  but  they 



were  so  long  that  they  trailed  on  the  ground.  Now  look  at 
them — see  how  short  they’ve  gotten.  There’s  your  proof.” 

It  s just  the  other  way  around,”  maintained  the  other. 
“Anyone  with  eyes  in  his  head  can  see  that  man  grows  from 
the  head.  Why,  just  yesterday  I watched  a regiment  of  sol- 
diers on  parade  and  it  was  clear  as  daylight  that  at  the  bot- 
tom of  their  feet  they  were  all  the  same;  they  differed  in  size 
only  at  the  top!” 


Out  of  the  poverty  of  European  ghetto  life  arose  two 
folktypes — the  schlemihl  and  the  schlimazl.  True,  they  had  their 
counterparts  in  the  misfits  and  the  maladjusted  of  all  peoples,  but 
who  could  compare  with  them  in  the  extent  and  intensity  of  their 
almost  comic  wretchedness? 

The  words  schlemihl  and  schlimazl  are  rarely  applied  according 
to  their  precise  meanings.  Almost  always  they  are  used  interchange- 
ably. This,  of  course,  is  not  altogether  without  reason — the  two 
types  did  have  an  affinity;  they  both  had  their  origin  in  the  same 
economic  swamp  of  ghetto-stagnation.  Also  their  end  product  was 
identical — failure! 

What  actually  is  a schlemihl ? The  etymology  of  the  word  is 
very  much  in  doubt.  Outside  of  Yiddish,  the  first  mention  of  the 
word  is  in  the  title  of  Chamisso’s  famous  story  of  Peter  Schlemihl 
(1813),  the  man  who  sold  his  shadow.  The  Bible  mentions  a She- 
lumiel  who  was  a prince  of  the  tribe  of  Simon.  But  there  is  noth- 
ing to . associate  him  with  a schlemihl.  A theory  about  the 
schlemihl,  one  not  to  be  taken  too  seriously,  is  built  upon  the  folk 
story  of  probable  medieval  origin  concerning  a certain  Schlumiel 
who  went  off  on  a journey  for  more  than  a year.  Upon  his  return 
he  is  aghast  to  discover  that  his  wife  has  just  given  birth;  but  the 
rabbinical  authorities  by  a very  liberal  interpretation  of  the  laws 
of  nature  convince  him  that  he  is  no  cuckold. 

In  the  Jewish  folk-mind,  however,  the  schlemihl  is  conceived  of 
as  an  awkward,  bungling  fellow,  plagued  not  only  with  “butter- 
fingers,” but  with  absolutely  no  skill  in  coping  with  any  situation 
in  life.  He  is  forever  getting  in  his  own  and  everybody  else’s  way 
and  spoils  everything  he  attempts.  A comic-strip  portrayal  of  the 
schlemihl  on  the  American  scene  was  Moishe  Kapoir  (Moses  Up- 
side-Down). He  regaled  readers  of  a Yiddish  newspaper  in  the 
early  1920’s  and  proved  so  popular  that  his  name  even  entered 
into  the  language. 



What  is  a schlimazll  He  is  a first  cousin  to  the  schlemihl.  No 
matter  what  he  too  puts  his  hand  to  turns  out  wrong,  but  not  be- 
cause he  lacks  ability  or  intelligence  but  because  he  simply  has 
no  luck;  the  cards  of  an  intensely  competitive  life  are  stacked 
against  him.  In  fact,  that  is  the  probable  meaning  of  the  word 
schlimazl:  schlim  being  the  German  word  for  “bad” — mazl  the 
Hebrew  word  for  “luck.” 

To  put  it  succinctly,  a wit  has  made  the  following  neat  distinc- 
tion between  these  two  types:  “A  schlemihl  is  a man  who  spills  a 
bowl  of  hot  soup  on  a schlimazl.” 

In  the  Twelfth  Century  a schlimazel  of  genius,  the  poet  Abra- 
ham ibn  Ezra  (of  whom  Robert  Browning  has  written),  laughed 
at  his  own  misfortunes  with  mirthful  irony: 

If  I sold  shrouds,  Then,  in  the  sky 

No  one  would  die.  The  sun,  for  spite. 

If  I sold  lamps,  Would  shine  by  night 

How  the  schlemihl  or  schlimazl  managed  to  survive  was  a mi- 
nor miracle.  He  seemed  to  draw  his  livelihood,  such  as  it  was, 
from  the  very  air.  That  is  what  led  Max  Nordau,  a well-known 
Jewish  figure  at  the  turn  of  the  century,  to  coin  the  word 
luftmensch  (air-man). 

As  identifiable  types,  schlemihls  and  schlimazls  must  have 
sprung  into  being  with  the  first  drastic  economic  discriminations 
against  Jews  by  the  Byzantine  emperors,  beginning  with  Justinian 
(530-560)  who  froze  the  social  and  economic  restrictions  against 
the  Jews  into  ruthless  Roman  law.  The  Imperial  Code  bristled 
with  a great  number  of  prohibitions — “the  Jews  shall  not”  and 
“the  Jews  must  not,”  features  which  thereafter  entered  into  almost 
all  legal  codes  in  European  countries  down  to  the  Nuremberg 
Laws  of  Hitler.  As  one  writer  has  remarked:  “It  reduced  men, 
who  through  the  generations  had  loved  to  live  by  the  work  of 
their  hands,  to  the  necessity  of  living  by  the  exercise  of  their 

In  the  course  of  time  the  schlemihl  and  the  schlimazl  became 
typed  in  folklore  and  acquired  traditional  physiognomies  that 
were  half-ludicrous  and  half-pathetic.  In  order  to  survive,  they 
had  to  be  eternally  hopeful,  untiringly  enterprising,  and  yet— by 
the  very  nature  of  circumstance  and  their  personalities  they  were 
pathetic  flops.  The  many  anxieties  of  their  family  life,  the  uncer- 
tainties of  their  sustenance  which  became  a daily  harassment, 
brought  a haunted  apologetic  look  into  their  eyes.  Sholom  Alei- 
chem  drew  endless  amusement  out  of  the  misadventures  of  his  ir- 
repressible, daydreaming  schlimazls,  Tevye  the  Dairyman  and 
Menachem  Mendel.  If  he  made  merry  over  them  it  was  only  with 
the  compassionate  intention  of  minimizing  their  own  troubles  for 



thousands  of  other  Tevyes  and  Menachem  Mendels  struggling  for 

In  the  Russian  and  Polish  ghettos,  not  only  the  unemployed 
scholar,  but  the  petty  shopkeeper,  the  occasional  trader,  and  the 
man  without  a trade  as  well,  were  driven  to  pursue  the  elusive 
firefly  of  many  occupations,  and  usually  starved  on  all  of  them. 

This  particularly  held  true  during  the  Nineteenth  Century 
when,  by  Imperial  ukase,  there  took  place  many  mass-expulsions 
of  lews  from  the  small  towns  and  villages  into  the  already  over- 
crowded city  ghettos.  Keen  as  competition  was  before  in  those 
places,  it  now  became  even  more  feverish  and  desperate.  Count 
Pahlen  reported  to  the  Czar  in  1888:  “About  ninety  per  cent  of 
the  whole  lewish  population  form  a mass  of  people  that  are  en- 
tirely unprovided  for  ...  a mass  that  lives  from  hand  to  mouth 
amidst  poverty.” 

There  is  a type  of  schlemihl  in  Jewish  folklore  who  stands  by 
himself.  He  is  the  henpecked  husband.  Because  there  were  so 
many  schlemihls  in  Jewish  life  there  was  naturally  a superfluity  of 
henpecked  husbands.  In  Bible  times  the  shrew  was  considered  as 
a divine  punishment  “which  shall  fall  to  the  lot  of  the  sinner.” 
There  is  the  proverb:  “It  is  better  to  dwell  in  the  wilderness,  than 
with  a contentious  and  angry  woman.”  An  unknown,  but  proba- 
bly long-suffering  Talmudic  sage  became  downright  bitter  about 
it:  “Life  is  not  worth  living  for  a husband  who  has  a domineer- 
ing wife.” 

Of  course  there  were  some  gentle  and  unembittered  souls 
among  henpecked  husbands  who  endured  their  marital  martyr- 
dom with  philosophical  resignation.  They  tried  hard  to  read  into 
their  misfortune  some  hidden  blessings.  The  sage  Rabbi  Hiyya, 
for  instance,  had  a quarrelsome  and  shrewish  wife.  He  tried  to 
turn  her  wrath  from  him  with  gifts.  Whenever  he  saw  some 
pretty  trinket  that  he  thought  would  charm  her,  he  would  buy  it, 
put  it  in  his  turban,  and  hasten  home  with  it  to  surprise  her. 

“Isn’t  she  a shrew,  continually  pecking  at  you?”  he  was  asked 

Rabbi  Hiyya  replied:  “Taking  care  of  our  children  and  saving 
us  from  sin  is  sufficient  for  us  to  be  tender  to  our  wives,  re- 
gardless of  their  dispositions.” 

N.A.  ' 

The  Henpecked  Rabbi 

Rabbi  Jacob  Isaac  of  Lublin  had  a shrewish  wife.  She  con- 
stantly nagged  him  but,  as  he  practiced  great  self-restraint,  he 
suffered  in  silence.  At  last  one  day,  when  his  patience  had 


the  human  comedy 

worn  thin,  he  retorted  to  her  with  a few  sharp  words.  When 
his  disciple,  Rabbi  Bunam,  heard  this  he  was  filled  with 

“What  suddenly  made  you  talk  back  to  your  wife,  Rabbi?” 
he  asked. 

“It  would  have  been  cruel  not  to  answer  her,”  replied 
Rabbi  Jacob  Isaac.  What  irritated  her  more  than  anything 
else  was  the  fact  that  I did  not  respond  to  her  nagging.” 

Poor  Man’s  Luck 

A RABBI  was  asked  to  explain  why  it  was  that  everything  was 
permitted  the  rich  but  not  the  poor. 

“Is  there  a separate  Torah  for  the  rich  and  another  for  the 

“It’s  all  a matter  of  luck,”  answered  the  rabbi.  “Moses 
came  down  from  Mt.  Sinai  and  found  that  the  Jews  had  fash- 
ioned a golden  calf.  He  got  so  angry  about  it  that  he  went 
and  shattered  the  Ten  Commandments.  The  Tables  of  the 
Law,  as  you  know,  were  made  of  the  most  precious  gems. 
When  the  multitude  saw  Moses  break  them  they  leaped  for- 
ward to  pick  up  the  valuable  pieces  that  fell  in  every  direc- 
tion. Now  who  do  you  think  had  all  the  luck  in  the  world? 
The  rich,  of  course!  They  picked  up  all  the  pieces  on  which 
was  written — Thou  shalt.  The  poor,  on  the  other  hand,  who 
have  been  schlimazls  ever  since  the  beginning  of  Creation, 
had  no  luck  at  all.  All  they  could  pick  up  in  the  scramble 
were  little  bits  of  the  Tables  on  which  was  written  the  word 
not.  So  there!” 

Two  Possibilities 

A poor  melamed  made  up  his  mind  he  was  going  to  get  a 
cow,  for  he  had  many  children  and  he  could  not  afford  to 
buy  milk  for  all  of  them.  So  he  tried  hard  to  convince  his 
wife  that  his  idea  was  sound. 

“Believe  me,”  ha  urged  with  enthusiasm,  “it  would  even  be 
worthwhile  to  pawn  everything  we’ve  got  in  order  to  buy  a 

But  his  wife  was  more  cautious  than  he,  so  she  asked, 
What  guarantee  do  you  have  that  the  cow  you’ll  buy  will 
give  milk?”  ' y 

u ‘<what  a siHy  question  to  ask!”  replied  the  teacher  heatedly. 
In  any  case  there  are  two  possibilities!  If  the  cow  gives 


it  will  be  fine!  On  the  other  hand — if  the  cow  does  not 
give  milk  - - What  do  you  mean  if  the  cow  does  not  give 
milk!  How  is  it  possible  that  the  cow  will  not  give  milk?” 

To  Avert  Disaster 

. . But  you’ve  just  got  to  give  me  some  money!”  insisted 
the  schlimazl. 

“Why  so?”  demanded  the  rich  man, 

“Because  if  you  don’t,  I’ll  ...  ril  go  into  the  hat 

“So  what?” 

“What  do  you  mean,  so  what?  If  a man  with  my  luck  goes 
mto  the  hat  business,  every  baby  in  this  country  from  that 
day  on  will  be  bom  without  a head!” 

Poor  Fish 

A fish  dealer  in  a Jewish  neighborhood  in  the  Bronx  once 
put  out  a sign,  reading:  “Fresh  fish  sold  here.” 

A customer  came  in  and  asked  in  surprise,  “Why  did  you 
put  the  word  ‘fresh’  on  your  sign?  It’s  understood  your  fish 
are  fresh — or  do  they  stink?” 

“Of  course  not!”  agreed  the  fish  dealer,  and  hurriedly  he 
painted  out  the  word  “fresh.” 

■^  ^tle  while  later  another  customer  came  in  and  comment- 
ed, “What  for  do  you  need  the  word  ‘here’  on  your  sign? 
Where  else  could  you  be  selling  your  fish?” 

You  re  right!”  agreed  the  fish  dealer,  and  he  painted  out 
the  word  “here.” 

Later,  another  customer  complained,  “ ‘Sold’!  What  do  you 
mean,  ‘sold’?  Surely  you’re  not  giving  away  any  of  your  fish!” 

Indeed  not!”  agreed  the  fish  dealer,  and  he  went  and 
painted  out  the  word  “sold.” 

Finally,  an  old  lady  wearing  a kerchief  hobbled  in.  She  saw 
the  sign,  and  croaked  in  a high  thin  voice,  “ ‘Fish’?  You  don’t 
need  to  advertise  your  fish!  Believe  me,  you  can  smell  them  a 
mile  away!” 

The  fish  dealer  heaved  a deep  sigh,  picked  up  his  brush 
and  painted  out  the  word  “fish.” 


A Jewish  Highwayman 

Once  there  was  a poor  Jew  who  had  a wife  and  six  children 
but  no  source  of  income.  His  wife  scolded  him  all  day  long 
for  being  a schlemihl  and  his  children  cried  all  the  time  be- 
cause they  were  hungry.  And  so,  with  a troubled  spirit,  he  sat 
down  to  think. 

Suddenly  a terrible  thought  occurred  to  him!  He  was  going 
to  he  a highwayman,  a wicked,  throat-slitting  highwayman! 
He  had  often  heard  tales  of  such  men,  how  with  the  greatest 
of  ease  they  acquired  large  sums  of  money.  Not  that  he  had 
ever  seen  any  or  knew  how  they  went  about  their  business. 
But  he  was  not  going  to  stand  his  wife’s  nagging  anymore! 
He  would  show  her  what  kind  of  a schlemihl  he  was! 

So  early  one  morning  he  put  on  a large  sack  over  his 
clothes,  stuck  a hatchet  in  his  belt,  took  along  his  tallis  and 
te  fill  in  and  went  into  the  forest. 

He  hid  behind  a tree  and  from  there  kept  a sharp  lookout 
He  waited  and  waited.  But  what  poor  Jew  has  luck?  The 
morning  passed  and  then  the  afternoon,  and  still  not  a soli- 
tary person  came  in  sight.  Finally  the  sun  began  to  set  and 
the  shadows  of  night  fell.  Seeing  this  the  highwayman  grew 

“Nu,  what  can  I do  now?”  he  thought.  “It’s  time  to  say  the 
Mincha  prayer.” 

So  he  started  to  pray.  But  no  sooner  had  he  started  the 
eighteen  benedictions  and  was  reciting:  “Look  but  upon  our 
affliction,  and  fight  our  fight,  and  redeem  us  speedily  for  the 
sake  of  Thy  Name,”  when  he  suddenly  saw  a Jew  coming 
towards  him.  Silently  he  motioned  to  him  to  wait  until  he  had 
finished  the  prayer.  Politely,  and  with  a pious  man’s  regard 
for  another’s  devotions,  the  stranger  waited. 

Having  finished  the  recitation  of  the  eighteenth  benediction 
with  a resounding  “Amen!”  the  highwayman  ran  up  to  the 
stranger  and,  drawing  his  hatchet,  he  cried,  “Your  money  or 
your  life!” 

The  stranger  regarded  him  with  amazement. 

“What  are  you — crazy  or  just  a nit-wit?”  he  inquired. 

“I  am  a highwayman!”  answered  the  highwayman  sternly. 
“And  if  you  won’t  give  me  all  your  money  right  away  I’m 
going  to  kill  you  in  cold  blood!” 

“See  here,”  pleaded  the  stranger  seeing  that  he  was  in  ear- 
nest, “I  am  a Jew,  a destitute  man!  I am  a father  and  a hus- 

droll  characters  241 

bRmJ!  Where  do  you  suppose  a man  like  me  would  get  money 
trom.  Surely  you  don’t  want  to  make  my  children  orphans 
and  my  wife  a widow!  Who  will  provide  for  them?  With  me 
dead  they’ll  perish  of  hunger!” 

The  highwayman  listened  attentively  and  nodded  his  head. 

ba.nd\,'>lCh  ” **  thought’  “A  poor  man>  a father  and  a hus- 

“You’re  right!”  he  said  aloud.  “It  would  indeed  be  a pity  to 
km  yomVery  well  then,  so  I won’t  kill  you— but  do  give  me 
sl  ruble. 

“A  ™J?]e!”  cried  the  stranger,  getting  red  in  the  face  with 
anger.  Who  do  you  take  me  for — Rothschild?” 

“Well  then  give  me  ten  kopeks.” 

. “T,en„  k°Peks!  Are  you  crazy?  Why  should  I give  you  ten 
kopeks?  Even  a rich  man  doesn’t  give  an  alms  of  ten  kopeks 
at  one  smack.”  * 

“In  that  case,  give  me  a cigarette.” 

“A  cigarette!  I don’t  smoke.” 

/Wh,”  sighed  the  highwayman  wearily,  “let  me  have  a 
pinch  of  snuff. 

place?”  3 P'nCh  °f  Snuff!  didn’t  you  say  so  in  the  first 

. the  stranger  opened  his  snuff-box  and  graciously  offered 
it  to  the  highwayman. 

The  highwayman  took  a pinch  of  snuff  and  sneezed-  “A- 

“Gesundheit!”  said  the  stranger  heartily. 

Then  the  stranger  took  a pinch  of  snuff  and  sneezed:  “A- 

“ Gesundheit !”  echoed  the  highwayman  politely. 

, They  sneezed  so  heartily  that  the  forest  reverberated  with 
the  sound.  Then  they  shook  hands  and  said  goodnight. 


A poor  man,  a schlimazl,  once  came  to  the  rabbi. 

“Advise  me.  Rabbi— what  shall  I do?”  he  complained. 
Whatever  I put  my  hand  to  fails.  If  I sell  umbrellas— it 
doesn  t ram.  And  if  I sell  shrouds— nobody  dies.  What  trade 
shall  I take  up?” 

advice’  my  son>  and  become  a baker,”  said  the 
rabbi.  If  you  become  a baker  you’ll  at  least  have  bread  in 
the  house.” 



“True,”  answered  the  hard-bitten  schlimazl,  “but  what  will 
happen  if  I don’t  have  money  to  buy  flour?” 

“You  won’t  be  a baker  then,”  said  the  rabbi. 

X Marks  the  Spot 

Shmul  the  tailor  came  to  America  from  a little  Russian 
town.  He  didn’t  know  how  to  read  or  write  but  he  opened  a 
clothing  shop  in  New  York  and  he  began  to  prosper.  In  time 
he  went  to  the  bank  to  open  a checking  account.  Not  know- 
ing how  to  write,  he  signed  two  crosses  on  the  bank 
documents  in  lieu  of  his  name. 

As  time  went  on  he  prospered  still  more.  He  sold  his 
cloak-and-suit  business  and  began  to  manufacture  textiles.  So 
he  went  to  the  bank  and  opened  up  a new  account.  This  time 
he  signed  all  the  bank  documents  with  three  crosses. 

“Why  three  crosses?”  asked  the  bank  president.  “You’ve  al- 
ways signed  with  two.” 

“Oh,  you  know  how  women  are,  fancy-shmancy,”  he  mut- 
tered apologetically.  “My  wife  wants  me  to  take  on  a middle 
name  I” 

Marriages  Are  Made  in  Heaven 

For  many  years  the  meek  rabbi  endured  the  nagging  of  his 
shrewish  wife  with  resignation.  Everyone  marvelled  greatly 
over  his  self-control.  One  day  a friend  of  his  said  to  him: 

“It’s  simply  not  human  to  be  as  patient  as  you  are!  If  I 
were  in  your  place  I’d  divorce  your  wife — she’s  the  scandal 
of  the  whole  town.” 

The  rabbi  sighed  wearily  and  murmured: 

“It  must  be  God’s  will.” 

“Nonsense!”  protested  his  friend.  “Surely  you  don’t  mean 
to  tell  me  that  it  is  God’s  will  to  punish  a holy  man  like 

“Far  be  it  from  me  to  question  the  justice  of  God’s  will,” 
gently  answered  the  rabbi.  “My  own  common  sense  tells  me 
that  it  is  wise.  What  if  my  wife  had  been  married  instead  to 
an  impatient  man?  Why,  he  would  have  divorced  her  and  ru- 
ined her  life  forever  after!  Therefore,  you  see  that  God  must 
have  known  what  he  was  doing  when  he  gave  her  to  me  who 
can  tolerate  her  nagging.” 



An  Absent-Minded  Fellow 

Once  there  was  a gentle  Talmud  scholar,  but  in  his  wife’s 
eyes  he  was  only  a schlemihl.  He  always  lost  things — never 
found  anything. 

One  Friday  afternoon,  he  came  home  from  the  steambath. 
His  wife  was  startled  to  see  that  he  was  without  a shirt. 

“Where  is  your  shirt,  my  fine  schlemihlf' 

“Oh,  the  shirt?  Somebody  must  have  changed  his  for  mine 
at  the  bath  by  mistake!” 

“But  where  is  his?  I can  see  you  haven’t  got  yours.” 

“Tsk,  tsk!”  reflected  the  teacher.  “The  man  must  have  been 
an  absent-minded  fellow — he  forgot  to  leave  me  his!” 

A Prayer  and  a Deal 

Once  there  was  a poor  man,  a schlemihl.  He  was  so  unhappy 
that  he  took  pleasure  in  day-dreaming. 

One  day  he  uttered  the  following  prayer: 

“Dear  God — give  me  ten  thousand  dollars  for  the  New 
Year.  I’ll  tell  you  what — I’ll  make  a deal  with  you.  I swear  to 
give  five  thousand  dollars  of  this  amount  for  charity,  the 
other  half  let  me  keep.  You  say  you  have  doubts  about  my 
honorable  intentions? — then  give  me  the  five  thousand  dollars 
I ask  for  myself  and  the  other  five  thousand  dollars  you  give 
to  charity  yourself.” 

Vice  Is  Also  an  Art 

The  rabbi  was  disappointed  in  his  son-in-law. 

“What  a simpleton  our  son-in-law  is!”  he  complained  to  his 
wife.  “He  doesn’t  know  the  first  thing  about  drink  and 

“Is  that  a misfortune?”  asked  his  wife  wonderingly.  “May 
all  sons-in-law  be  as  ignorant  about  such  things!  So  again, 
what  is  the  misfortune?” 

“The  misfortune  is,”  lamented  the  rabbi,  “that  not  knowing 
how  to  drink,  he  drinks  nevertheless,  and  not  knowing  how  to 
play  cards,  he  insists  on  playing  them!” 



Ignoramuses  and  Pretenders 

From  What  Einstein  Makes  a Living 

Benny’s  old  grandfather,  a grey-bearded  patriarch  from  Po- 
land, was  very  much  puzzled  by  all  the  newspaper  talk  about 
Einstein  and  his  theory  of  relativity. 

“Tell  me,  Benny,”  he  finally  asked  with  curiosity  one  day 
when  his  grandson  returned  home  from  college.  “Who  is  this 
Einstein  and  what  is  all  this  relativity  business  about?” 

“Einstein  is  the  greatest  living  scientist,”  began  Benny  en- 
thusiastically, a little  uneasy  about  his  own  knowledge  of  the 
matter.  “Relativity  is — well,  it’s  hard  to  explain.  Let’s  put  it 
this  way:  if  a man’s  sweetheart  sits  on  his  knee,  an  hour  feels 
like  a minute.  On  the  other  hand,  if  the  same  man  sits  on  a 
hot  stove,  a minute  feels  like  an  hour.  That’s  the  theory  of 
relativity!”  concluded  Benny  triumphantly. 

Grandpa  looked  shocked.  For  a minute  he  kept  stunned 
silence,  an  expression  of  incredulity  in  his  eyes.  Then  he  mut- 
tered into  his  beard:  “America  goniff! 

“Tell  me,  Benny,”  he  finally  asked,  “and  from  this  your 
Einstein  makes  a living?” 

One  Use  for  Scholarship 

One  day  a stranger  came  into  the  House  of  Study;  no  one 
had  ever  seen  him  before.  Without  a word  he  made  his  way 
to  the  shelves  where  the  books  of  sacred  lore  were  stored.  He 
began  to  pull  out  one  huge  tome  after  another,  folios  of  the 
Talmud,  the  commentaries  of  Rashi,  Ibn  Ezra  and  the  Ram- 

At  the  time,  the  House  of  Study  was  full  of  scholars.  They 
watched  the  man  at  his  work  with  incredulity. 

“What  a learned  scholar  he  must  be!”  whispered  one,  awe- 

“Never  in  my  life  have  I seen  a scholar  use  so  many  au- 
thorities at  one  time!”  said  another. 

Methodically,  the  stranger  piled  up  his  big  books.  Then,  to 
everybody’s  amazement,  he  climbed  on  top  of  them  and 
reached  for  a hard  cheese  he  had  hidden  on  the  very  top 



The  Truth  about  Falsehood 

No  man  was  imposed  upon  by  rabbinical  careerists  as  much 
as  the  kind-hearted  Rabbi  Elijah,  the  Vilna  Gaon. 

One  day,  a pretentious  Talmudic  scholar  asked  him  for  a 
testimonial  for  a learned  treatise  he  was  about  to  publish. 
Rabbi  Elijah  couldn’t  say  “no,”  as  much  as  he  wanted  to  do 
so,  and  wrote  a half-hearted  testimonial.  Although  he  had 
plenty  of  room  he  signed  his  name  at  the  very  bottom  of  the 

“Why  do  you  sign  your  name  so  far  from  your  testimonial. 
Rabbi?”  asked  the  scholar. 

Rabbi  Elijah  smiled  ruefully  and  answered: 

“Scripture  commands  us:  ‘Get  thee  at  a distance  from 
falsehood!’  ” 

A Violation  of  Nature 

Once  there  was  a pretentious  scholar  who  lost  no  opportunity 
to  sing  his  own  praises  and  to  push  his  own  wares. 

One  day,  having  finished  a commentary  on  the  Book  of 
Psalms,  he  came  to  the  Vilna  Gaon  for  a testimonial.  The 
great  Rabbi  Elijah  read  it  and,  when  he  had  finished,  said 
firmly,  “I’m  sorry,  but  I cannot  give  you  a testimonial.” 


“It  reverses  the  natural  order  of  things.” 

“How  so?”  inquired  the  pretender,  flattered  at  the  thought 
that  his  ideas  were  daringly  original. 

“The  natural  order  is  to  make  paper  out  of  rags,”  replied 
the  Vilna  Gaon.  “But  you,  my  friend,  have  reversed  the 
process — you  have  made  a rag  out  of  paper!” 

It  Takes  More  than  Brains 

Congratulations  were  showered  on  Kaplan.  His  number  49 
had  won  the  top  prize  in  the  lottery. 

“Say,  Kaplan,”  asked  Goldstein,  “how  did  you  happen  to 
pick  number  49?” 

“I  saw  it  in  a dream.  Six  sevens  appeared  and  danced  be- 
fore my  eyes.  Six  times  seven  is  49,  and  that’s  all  there  was 
to  it.” 

“But,  six  times  seven  is  42,  not  49.” 

“Hah?  . . . All  right,  so  you  be  the  mathematician!” 



The  Diagnosis 

A stranger  came  to  town  and  called  on  a rich  apikoiros. 

“I’m  a rabbi  and  a scholar  and  I am  very  sick.  Please  give 
me  a donation,”  he  asked. 

Unimpressed  with  the  man’s  appearance,  the  freethinker, 
who  was  also  a bit  of  a scholar,  began  to  feel  his  visitor’s  in- 
tellectual pulse. 

“Tell  me,  my  dear  Rabbi,  are  you  familiar  with  the  Ram- 
bam’s8  Guide  to  the  Perplexed ?” 

“Am  I familiar  with  it!  I studied  it  when  I was  thirteen!” 
replied  his  visitor. 

“Have  you  ever  studied  Rabbi  Tolstoi’s  Talmudic  commen- 
tary, ResurrectionT’ 

“What  a question!”  the  stranger  replied  airily.  “I  know  it 
by  heart!  I studied  it  when  I was  a youth  at  the  Yeshiva.” 

“My  friend,”  remarked  the  freethinker  with  a smile,  “in 
my  opinion  you’re  not  so  much  a sick  scholar  as  a healthy  ig- 

What  Does  It  Matter ? 

One  day,  complaining  of  a stomach  ache,  Tevye  visited  a 
doctor.  After  due  deliberation,  with  solemnity,  the  doctor  in- 
formed him  that  he  had  cancer. 

“Cancer,  shmancer,”  said  Tevye,  gaily,  “as  long  as  I'm 


For  a long  time  Levy  and  Bernstein  sat  over  their  teacups, 
saying  nothing.  At  last  Levy  broke  the  silence.  “You  know, 
Bernstein,”  he  said,  “life  is  like  a glass  of  tea.” 

“Life  is  like  a glass  of  tea . . . why?”  asked  Bernstein. 

“How  should  I know,”  said  Levy,  “am  I a philosopher?” 

Note  to  Obstetricians 

Although  he  himself  had  been  deprived  of  the  opportunity 
for  an  education,  the  wealthy  Mr.  Levine  sent  his  only 
daughter  to  a “finishing”  school  in  Paris. 

Upon  her  return  to  Cleveland  she  married  and,  in  due 
course  of  time,  was  taken  to  the  maternity  hospital. 



When  her  obstetrician  came  to  find  out  how  she  was  doing 
she  moaned  languorously:  “ Mon  dieu!  Mon  dieu!" 

Doctor,  doctor — quick,  she’s  giving  birth!”  gasped  her  fa- 
ther m alarm. 

..xw®  d,°ftT0r  indifferently  shook  his  head  and  answered: 
Not  yeti  Not  yet!” 

An  hour  later,  when  the  daughter  heard  the  doctor  coming, 
she  waded  elegantly:  “Sauvez  moi,  Docteur!” 

Doctor,  doctor — quick,  she’s  giving  birth!”  cried  Mr.  Lev- 
ine wringing  his  hands  frantically. 

“Not  yet,”  replied  the  doctor,  looking  bored. 

A few  minutes  later  a piercing  shriek  rang  through  the  hos- 
pital corridors. 

“Oy,  gewalt,  Mama!” 

She  s giving  birth  now!”  said  the  doctor  to  Mr.  Levine  as 
ne  humed  into  the  daughter’s  room. 

The  Dachshund 

The  great  Russian  landowner  summoned  his  Jewish  business- 
agent  and  said  to  him- 

“Here  are  twenty-five  rubles — I want  you  to  buy  me  a 

“May  it  please  Your  Excellency,”  urged  the  agent,  “but 
how“*  p°ssible  t0  buy  a good  dachshund  for  such  a small 
sum  / Take  my  advice,  give  me  fifty  rubles  and  I’ll  buy  you  a 
dachshund  that  will  be  a dachshund!” 

Good!  agreed  the  landowner.  “Here  are  twenty-five  more 
rubles — but  make  sure  it’s  a first  class  dachshund!” 

“You  can  rest  on  that,  Your  Excellency,”  the  agent  assured 

And  as  he  was  about  to  leave  he  hesitated  and  asked  apol- 
ogetically:  A thousand  pardons,  Your  Excellency,  but  what 
is  a dachshund?” 


Rogues  and  Sinners 

Tricksters  and  Rogues 


Tricksters  and  rogues,  and  all  other  men  who  live  by  cunning 
and  deceit,  are  treated  with  almost  condescending  pity  in  the  folk 
tales  of  the  Jews.  This  attitude  is  not  difficult  to  explain  about  a 
people  one  of  whose  cardinal  religious  beliefs  is  in  God’s  justice, 
and  in  its  corollary — that  divine  retribution  must  always  follow 
the  evil  that  men  do.  Sooner  or  later,  the  ethical-minded  Jew 
maintains,  it  must  catch  up  with  the  rascal  and  lay  him  low — if 
not  in  this  life,  most  certainly  in  the  World-to-Come. 

Scripture  is  full  of  comfort  to  the  righteous  when  they  bitterly 
complain  against  the  worldly  good-fortune  of  rogues,  and,  con- 
versely, against  the  frequent  bedevilment  on  earth  of  the  righ- 
teous. “Fret  not  thyself  because  of  evil-doers,”  the  Psalmist 
consoles  the  good  man,  “neither  be  thou  envious  against  the 
workers  of  iniquity.  For  they  shall  soon  be  cut  down  like  the 
grass  and  wither  as  a green  herb.”  (Psalm  37.1,  2.)  The  Book  of 
Proverbs  also  offers  the  balm  of  solace  to  the  suffering  men  of 
virtue.  It  sees  the  good-fortune  of  the  wicked  as  being  only  de- 
ceptive and  ephemeral.  “Whoso  diggeth  a pit  shall  fall  therein: 
and  he  that  rolleth  a stone  it  will  return  upon  him.”  (Proverbs 

According  to  Jewish  folk-belief,  the  first  evil  men  in  the  world 
were  those  who  lived  in  Sodom  and  Gomorrah  in  the  days  of  the 
Patriarch  Abraham.  Both  the  Bible  and  the  Talmud  tell  of  God’s 
wrath  against  the  inhabitants  of  those  cities  of  sin.  Because  of 
their  wickedness,  He  vowed  to  destroy  them  root  and  stem  but, 
upon  Abraham’s  compassionate  intercession,  He  agreed  to  spare 
Sodom  provided  ten  good  men  could  be  found  there.  But,  when 
Abraham  failed  to  find  even  that  modest  number,  God  descended 
upon  the  city  in  His  wrath  and  destroyed  it  and  all  its  wicked  in- 
habitants with  fire  and  brimstone. 




In  time,  the  Men  of  Sodom  began  to  personify  the  genius  of 
evil  to  the  Jewish  folk.  And  thus  we  find  many  ancient  Rabbinic 
tales  in  which  their  wicked  traits  and  diabolical  cleverness  are 
graphically  described  for  the  edification  of  all  posterity  in  order 
that  it  be  forewarned  betimes  and  thereby  avoid  the  terrible  fate 
of  those  unheeding  evil-doers. 


The  Thief  Who  Was  Too  Clever 7 

A merchant  went  on  a distant  journey  to  buy  goods.  He 
carried  five  hundred  gold  pieces  in  a bag.  When  he  arrived  at 
his  destination  he  began  to  get  worried.  He  said  to  himself: 
“I’m  a stranger  here  and  I don’t  know  a soul.  If  I carry  the 
money  on  me  I may  be  robbed.  Better  that  I conceal  it  until 
I’m  ready  to  make  my  purchases.” 

With  this  thought  in  mind  the  merchant  went  to  an  unfre- 
quented place.  He  looked  cautiously  about  him  and,  con- 
vinced that  no  one  was  looking,  he  dug  a hole  and  concealed 
his  money  in  it.  However,  he  did  not  know  that  there  was  an 
opening  in  the  wall  of  a house  nearby  and  that  someone  had 
seen  him  hide  his  money. 

No  sooner  had  the  merchant  left  than  the  man  who  saw 
him  bury  the  bag  of  gold  came  out  of  his  house  and  dug  it 

Several  days  passed.  The  merchant  was  now  ready  to  pay 
for  the  goods  he  had  bought.  He  therefore  went  to  the  spot 
where  he  had  buried  his  money.  When  he  saw  that  it  had 
been  stolen  he  was  filled  with  despair. 

“What  will  I do  now?”  he  lamented.  “From  whom  can  I 
claim  my  money?  No  one  saw  me  bury  it." 

Troubled,  the  merchant  began  to  look  around  him  and 
soon  discovered  the  opening  in  the  wall.  He  began  to  suspect 
that  the  owner  of  that  house  was  the  likely  thief.  So  he  went 
to  him  and  said: 

“I’ve  heard  it  said  that  you’re  a wise  man  and  can  give  me 
good  advice.  I came  here  to  buy  merchandise  and  I brought 
with  me  two  bags  of  gold.  One  was  filled  with  five  hundred 
gold  pieces;  the  other  with  eight  hundred  pieces.  Since  I’m  a 
stranger  here  and  don’t  know  a soul,  I decided  to  conceal  the 
bag  with  the  five  hundred  gold  pieces  in  a hole  in  the  ground. 
I still  carry  around  with  me  the  bag  with  the  eight  hundred 
gold  pieces,  but  I find  it  a great  burden.  Please  advise  me 



what  to  do;  shall  I keep  it  with  me,  shall  I bury  it  in  the  same 
hole  with  the  other  gold,  or  shall  I look  for  another  hiding 
place  for  it?  Possibly  you  might  know  of  an  honest  man  in 
town  to  whose  care  I could  entrust  it.” 

The  man  thought  for  a moment  and  replied  with  cunning: 

‘Take  my  advice.  Don’t  entrust  your  money  to  anyone  be- 
cause it  is  possible  that  he  might  even  deny  that  you  ever 
gave  it  to  him.  Also,  I counsel  you  not  to  look  for  a new  hid- 
ing place  but  to  bury  your  gold  in  the  same  hole  with  the 
other  bag.” 

The  thief  reasoned  this  way:  “It’s  clear  that  this  poor  fool 
doesn’t  know  yet  that  the  bag  with  the  five  hundred  gold 
pieces  is  missing.  Therefore,  the  best  way  to  get  his  second 
bag  is  to  return  the  first  bag  to  its  place,  because,  if  I don’t 
do  that,  he  will  be  afraid  to  bury  the  second  bag  there.  In 
that  way  I’ll  get  both  bags.” 

The  merchant  was  fully  aware  that  the  thief  would  follow 
such  a course.  Therefore,  he  said  to  him: 

“Thank  you  for  your  good  advice.  I will  do  as  you  bid  me 
and  will  bury  the  gold  after  dark  tonight.” 

No  sooner  had  the  merchant  left  him  than  the  thief  went 
in  great  haste  to  put  the  first  bag  of  gold  back  in  its  place. 
The  merchant,  who  was  hiding  nearby,  quickly  dug  up  his 
money  and  joyfully  walked  away. 

You  Can’t  Fool  God8 

Two  sisters,  twins,  lived  in  a certain  town.  They  looked  so 
much  alike  that  when  they  were  together  no  one  could  tell 
them  apart.  Although  both  sisters  were  married,  one  of  the 
two  was  a wanton  and  made  a cuckold  of  her  husband. 

One  day  on  a pretext  this  wanton  told  her  husband  that 
she  had  to  go  to  another  town.  Instead  she  had  a secret  meet- 
ing with  a lover.  Upon  her  return  her  husband  became  very 
suspicious  and,  being  exceedingly  troubled  by  his  doubts,  he 
demanded  that  she  go  with  him  to  the  High  Priest  so  that  he 
might  prove  her  with  the  bitter  waters.  If  the  bitter  waters  she 
drank  did  not  harm  her,  it  would  be  divine  proof  of  her  inno- 
cence. On  the  other  hand,  should  she  be  guilty,  she  would  die 
from  the  drink. 

The  woman  had  no  alternative  and  was  forced  to  go  with 
her  husband  to  the  High  Priest  for  the  ordeal.  On  the  way 



they  passed  the  house  where  her  twin  sister  lived.  With  pre- 
tended innocence  she  said  to  her  husband: 

“I  beg  you,  my  husband,  let  me  go  for  a moment  into  the 
house  of  my  sister  while  you  wait  for  me  here.” 

The  sinful  woman  went  into  her  sister’s  house  and  said  to 

“Help  me,  sister!  My  husband  is  outside  waiting  to  take  me 
to  the  High  Priest  to  put  me  through  the  ordeal  of  the  bitter 
waters.  Now  listen  to  me:  There  is  something  you  can  do  for 
me.  We  both  look  alike,  and  if  you  put  on  my  clothes  my 
husband  won’t  know  the  difference.  I know  I’m  a sinful 
woman  and  the  bitter  waters  will  kill  me.  But  you  are  inno- 
cent and  the  waters  cannot  harm  you.  Go  in  my  place  and 
you  will  save  my  life!” 

And  so  the  good  sister  changed  garments  with  the  faithless 
one  and  went  out  to  the  waiting  husband.  Unsuspectingly,  he 
led  her  into  the  house  of  the  High  Priest.  There  she  drank  the 
bitter  waters  and  passed  through  the  ordeal  without  harm. 

“I  pronounce  this  woman  innocent!”  cried  the  High  Priest 
“You  have  misjudged  her,”  he  rebuked  the  husband. 

Overjoyed,  the  man  went  home  with  his  wife.  On  the  way 
they  passed  the  sister’s  house. 

“Do  wait  for  me  here  for  one  moment,"  begged  the 
woman,  “while  I tell  my  sister  that  I have  safely  passed 
through  the  ordeal.” 

The  happy  husband  agreed.  As  she  entered,  the  wanton  sis- 
ter ran  to  greet  her  with  tears  of  gratitude  in  her  eyes. 

“You  have  saved  my  life!”  she  cried,  embracing  and  show- 
ering kisses  on  her. 

But  as  she  kissed  her  sister  she  inhaled  from  her  mouth  the 
aroma  of  the  bitter  herbs  and  they  entered  into  her  body. 
With  a moan  she  fell  to  the  floor,  dead,  her  body  swollen,  her 
belly  split. 

The  Wise  Rogue 9 

A man  once  caught  stealing  was  ordered  by  the  king  to  be 
hanged.  On  the  way  to  the  gallows  he  said  to  the  governor 
that  he  knew  a wonderful  secret  and  it  would  be  a pity  to  al- 
low it  to  die  with  him  and  he  would  like  to  disclose  it  to  the 
king.  He  would  put  a seed  of  a pomegranate  in  the  ground 
and  through  the  secret  taught  to  him  by  his  father  he  would 
make  it  grow  and  bear  fruit  overnight.  The  thief  was  brought 



before  the  king  and  on  the  morrow  the  king,  accompanied  hy 
the  high  officers  of  state,  came  to  the  place  where  the  thief 
was  waiting  for  them.  There  the  thief  dug  a hole  and  said, 
“This  seed  must  only  be  put  in  the  ground  by  a man  who  has 
never  stolen  or  taken  anything  which  did  not  belong  to  him.  I 
being  a thief  cannot  do  it.”  So  he  turned  to  the  Vizier  who, 
frightened,  said  that  in  his  younger  days  he  had  retained 
something  which  did  not  belong  to  him.  The  treasurer  said 
that  dealing  with  such  large  sums,  he  might  have  entered  too 
much  or  too  little  and  even  the  king  owned  that  he  had  kept 
a necklace  of  his  father’s.  The  thief  then  said,  “You  are  all 
mighty  and  powerful  and  want  nothing  and  yet  you  cannot 
plant  the  seed,  whilst  I who  have  stolen  a little  because  I was 
starving  am  to  be  hanged.”  The  king,  pleased  with  the  ruse  of 
the  thief,  pardoned  him. 

Justice  in  Sodom 10 

There  were  four  judges  in  Sodom.  Their  names  were:  Liar, 
Falsifier,  Bribe-taker  and  Swindler. 

Whenever  an  inhabitant  of  Sodom  came  to  the  judges  and 
complained:  “That  wicked  man  has  gone  and  cut  my  ass’s 
ears  off!”  the  judges  would  say:  “Give  your  ass  to  that  man, 
and,  as  punishment,  let  him  feed  the  ass  until  its  ears  grow 
back  again!” 

Sodom’s  Bed  for  Strangers 11 

The  inhabitants  of  Sodom  constructed  a wonderful  bed  for 
the  reception  of  strangers.  If  the  stranger  was  too  tall,  they 
amputated  his  legs  to  fit  the  bed.  If  he  was  too  short,  they 
stretched  him  until  they  tore  off  a limb  or  two. 

Once,  when  Eleazar  came  for  a visit,  they  invited  him  to 
lie  on  the  bed. 

He  replied  evasively:  “Ever  since  my  dear  mother  died  I’ve 
taken  a vow  never  to  sleep  in  a bed  again.” 

Charity  in  Sodom 12 

The  people  of  Sodom  practiced  charity  in  their  own  hypocrit- 
ical way.  Whenever  a poor  stranger  used  to  ask  for  alms  ev- 
eryone would  give  him  a gold  piece  on  which  was  engraved 
the  name  of  the  donor. 

However,  there  was  a town  law  that  no  stranger  could  buy 



food,  so  in  time  he’d  die  of  hunger.  Afterwards,  each  man 
sorrowfully  would  come  and  take  back  his  gold  piece. 

Example  in  Sodom 13 

The  rogues  of  Sodom  had  an  odd  custom.  The  man  who 
owned  a cow  was  obliged  to  graze  all  the  town’s  cattle  for 
one  day;  he  who  had  none  was  made  to  graze  them  for  two 

Now  there  was  a youth  of  Sodom,  an  orphan,  who  lived 
with  his  poor  mother.  He  owned  no  animal  at  all.  But,  fol- 
lowing the  custom,  he  was  forced  to  graze  all  the  cattle  for 
two  days. 

Enraged  by  this  injustice,  the  orphan  went  and  killed  all 
the  cattle  in  Sodom.  Then  he  said  to  the  inhabitants,  “Let 
him  who  owned  one  cow  come  and  take  one  hide.  Let  him 
who  had  none,  come  and  take  two  hides.” 

“What  kind  of  calculation  is  that?”  cried  the  inhabitants. 

“Don’t  blame  me!  You  yourselves  set  the  example  for  me,” 
answered  the  youth. 

Cunning  Against  Greed 14 

Once  there  was  a cunning  man  who  came  to  his  rich  neigh- 
bor and  asked  him  to  lend  him  a silver  spoon.  The  rich  man 
gave  it  to  him.  A few  days  later,  the  borrower  returned  the 
spoon  and  with  it  a small  spoon. 

What  is  that  for?”  the  rich  man  asked.  “I  lent  you  only 
one  spoon.” 

“Your  spoon,”  the  borrower  replied,  “gave  birth  to  this 
little  spoon,  so  I have  brought  you  back  both  mother  and 
child,  because  both  belong  to  you.” 

Although  what  the  man  said  sounded  foolish,  the  rich  man, 
who  was  avaricious,  accepted  both  spoons. 

A while  later  the  cunning  man  again  came  to  his  rich 
neighbor  and  asked  that  he  lend  him  a large  silver  goblet. 

The  rich  man  did  so.  Several  days  later  the  borrower  re- 
turned with  the  goblet  and  with  it  a little  goblet. 

, “Your  goblet,”  he  told  him,  “gave  birth  to  this  little  goblet 
Tm  returning  them  because  both  belong  to  you.” 

After  a while  the  cunning  man  paid  a visit  to  his  rich 
neighbor  for  the  third  time  and  said  to  him:  “Would  you 
mind  lending  me  your  gold  watch?” 

“With  pleasure!”  answered  the  rich  neighbor,  thinking  to 



himself  that  it  would  be  returned  to  him  together  with  a 
small  watch.  So  he  gave  him  his  watch  which  was  set  with  di- 

One  day  passed,  and  another,  and  still  another,  but  the 
borrower  failed  to  show  up  with  the  watch.  The  rich  man  be- 
came impatient  and  went  to  the  house  of  his  neighbor  to 
make  inquiry. 

“What  about  my  watch?”  he  asked. 

The  cunning  borrower  heaved  a deep  sigh. 

“Alas!”  he  said.  “I  am  sorry  to  tell  you  that  your  watch  is 
nebich  dead!  I had  to  get  rid  of  it.” 

“Dead?  What  do  you  mean  dead?”  cried  the  rich  man  an- 
grily. “How  can  a watch  die?” 

“If  a spoon  can  bear  little  spoons,”  answered  the  cunning 
man,  “and  if  a goblet  can  bear  little  goblets,  why  should  it 
surprise  you  that  a watch  can  die?” 

The  Way  Tailors  Figure 

A man  bought  some  material  and  went  to  see  a tailor. 

“Have  I enough  goods  for  a suit?”  he  asked. 

The  tailor  measured  the  material  carefully  and  said,  “No. 
It’ll  never  do.  There  just  isn’t  enough  material.” 

So  the  man  went  to  see  another  tailor.  He  too  measured 
the  goods  carefully. 

‘There’s  enough  material,”  he  said. 

He  took  the  measurements  and  told  the  customer  the  suit 
would  be  ready  in  two  weeks’  time. 

When  the  man  called  for  his  suit,  what  was  his  amazement 
to  see  that  the  tailor’s  little  boy  was  wearing  a suit  made  out 
of  the  same  stuff  as  his  own. 

“See  here,”  he  asked  the  tailor,  “can  you  tell  me  why  the 
tailor  across  the  street  told  me  there  wasn’t  enough  material, 
and  yet  not  only  have  you  made  me  a suit  out  of  it  but  have 
had  enough  left  to  make  a suit  for  your  little  boy?” 

“Well,”  replied  the  tailor,  “you  see,  for  me  the  material 
was  enough  because  I’ve  only  one  boy — but  for  the  other  tai- 
lor it  would  never  do.  He’s  got  two  boys!” 

He  Was  Underpaid 

Once  there  was  a tailor  in  Galicia  and,  although  he  sewed 
clothes  for  the  entire  population  of  the  town,  he  himself 
walked  about  in  tatters.  He  even  would  appear  this  way  in 


synagogue  on  the  Sabbath  day  to  the  mortification  of  all,  par- 
ticularly of  the  gabbed. 

“Isn’t  it  a disgrace  that  you,  a respectable  tailor,  should  go 
around  dressed  in  rags?”  the  gabbai  reproached  him  one  day. 

“What  can  I do?  I’m  a poor  man  and  I’ve  got  to  work  all 
the  time  to  make  a living,”  replied  the  tailor  piteously. 
“Where  do  you  think  I’ll  find  the  time  to  work  on  my  own 

“Here  are  two  gulden,”  said  the  gabbai.  “Imagine  I am  one 
of  your  customers  and  I am  paying  you  to  fix  your  own 

“Agreed!”  cried  the  tailor  with  alacrity  and  he  pocketed 
the  two  gulden. 

However,  on  the  following  Sabbath,  when  the  tailor  again 
came  to  the  synagogue,  the  warden  noticed  with  annoyance 
that  he  was  still  wearing  the  same  ragged  coat. 

“What  sort  of  behavior  is  this?”  cried  the  gabbai  angrily, 
feeling  he  had  been  imposed  upon,  “Didn’t  I give  you  two 
gulden  last  week  to  mend  your  own  coat?  Anybody  can  see 
you  haven’t  even  touched  it!” 

“What  am  I to  do?”  the  tailor  apologized.  “When  I got 
home  and  examined  my  coat  I realized  that  I’d  be  losing 
money  on  the  job  if  I did  it  for  two  gulden!” 

The  Penitents 

Two  students  of  the  Talmud  came  woebegone  to  their  rabbi 
and  wailed:  “Rabbi,  we’ve  committed  a sin!” 

“What  have  you  done?” 

“We  looked  with  lust  upon  a woman!” 

“God  preserve  you!”  cried  the  rabbi.  “You’ve  indeed  com- 
mitted a terrible  sin!” 

“We  wish  to  do  penance,  Rabbi!” 

“In  that  case,  I order  you  to  put  peas  into  your  shoes  and 
walk  about  that  way  for  a week.  Then  perhaps  you’ll  remem- 
ber not  to  commit  such  a sin  again.” 

The  two  penitents  went  away  and  did  as  the  rabbi  told 
them.  Several  days  later  they  met  on  the  street.  One  was  hob- 
bling painfully  and  looked  haggard,  but  the  other  one  was 
calm  and  smiling.  So  the  hobbler  said  to  his  friend  reproach- 
fully, “Is  this  the  way  you  do  penance?  I see  you  haven’t  fol- 
lowed the  rabbi’s  orders.  You  didn’t  put  peas  in  your  shoes!” 



“Of  course  I did!”  insisted  the  other.  “But  I cooked  them 

One  Shot  Too  Many 

When  the  Passover  holidays  were  drawing  near,  a Jewish 
carpenter,  who  had  been  working  in  Gomel,  was  on  his  way 
home  to  his  little  village  with  three  months’  wages  in  his 
pocket.  As  he  was  passing  through  a dark  forest  he  suddenly 
found  himself  looking  into  the  muzzle  of  a robber’s  gun. 

“Hand  over  your  money  or  I’ll  shoot!”  roared  an  evil-look- 
ing bandit. 

What  could  the  poor  man  do?  He  gave  him  his  money. 

_ As  the  robber  was  stuffing  the  money  into  his  pockets  his 
victim  pleaded  with  him: 

“See!  It’s  just  before  Passover.  The  money  you  took  from 
me  was  to  have  bought  matzos,  wine,  chickens  and  new 
clothes  for  my  wife  and  children.  Do  you  think  my  wife  will 
believe  me  when  I go  home  and  tell  her  that  a robber  in  the 
forest  took  my  money?” 

“That’s  your  affair!”  growled  the  bandit. 

At  any  rate,  can’t  you  help  me  a bit,  make  everything  look 
real  so  that  my  wife  will  believe  me?” 

“What  do  you  want  me  to  do?” 

“Put  a bullet  through  my  cap.” 

The  robber  laughed,  threw  the  poor  fellow’s  cap  into  the 
air  and  shot  through  it  as  it  came  down. 

“Fine!”  rejoiced  the  Jew.  “Now  fire  into  my  coat.” 

The  robber  sent  a bullet  through  a comer  of  his  coat. 

“Once  more,”  pleaded  the  Jew,  holding  up  the  other  comer 
for  him. 

“No  more  bullets,”  granted  the  bandit. 

“In  that  case,  my  fine  fellow,  to  the  devil  with  you!”  cried 
the  Jew,  overjoyed.  And  he  pummelled  the  rascal  so  hard 
that  he  didn’t  leave  one  whole  bone  in  his  body.  Then,  taking 
back  his  money,  he  continued  joyfully  on  his  way  home. 

The  Clever  Thief 

In  a certain  village  they  once  caught  a thief.  So  they  laid 
hold  of  him  and  beat  him  black  and  blue. 

At  this  he  raised  a great  outcry. 

“Do  with  me  what  you  like!  Beat  me,  hang  me,  shoot 
me — but  for  God’s  sake,  don’t  throw  me  over  the  fence!” 


When  the  villagers  saw  how  scared  he  was  of  being  thrown 
over  the  fence,  they  thought:  “No  doubt  something  terrible 
awaits  him  there!”  So  they  threw  him  over  the  fence,  crying: 
“Served  the  rascal  right!” 

When  the  thief  found  himself  on  the  other  side  of  the 
fence  he  laughed  heartily  and  ran  away. 

Very  Very  Antique 

A man,  who  had  a passion  for  old  things,  went  into  an  an- 
tique shop  and  asked  the  owner  to  show  him  some  rare  ob- 
jects. The  shopkeeper  showed  him  an  old  watch. 

My  friend,  here  you  see  a watch  that’s  one  of  the  seven 
wonders  of  creation.  Most  certainly  you  know  that  the  Ram- 
bam  (Maimonides)  was  a famous  doctor?  Well,  this  was  his 
watch.  He  used  to  look  at  it  as  he  felt  the  pulse  of  his  pa- 
tients and  he  brought  it  with  him  after  a visit  to  America.” 

Jt  What  are  you  talking  about?”  marvelled  the  customer. 
“How  could  the  Rambam  ever  have  been  in  America?  When 
he  lived  no  one  had  even  heard  of  America!” 

. Precisely!”  said  the  antique  dealer.  “That’s  the  wonder  of 
it.  That’s  what  makes  the  watch  so  valuable!” 

New  Management 

Otto  Kahn,  the  well-known  financier,  was  one  day  driving 
through  the  lower  East  Side  of  New  York  when  he  saw  a 
large  sign  reading:  “Samuel  Kahn,  cousin  of  Otto  Kahn.”  He 
immediately  called  up  his  lawyer,  instructing  him  to  have  the 
sign  changed,  sparing  no  expense.  A few  days  later,  Kahn 
drove  by  the  place  again.  The  offending  sign  had  been 
changed.  It  read:  “Samuel  Kahn,  formerly  cousin  of  Otto 

The  Ways  of  a Rogue 

A thief  cast  a longing  eye  on  a cow  that  belonged  to  a 

One  night,  he  knocked  on  the  peasant’s  door  and  said  pite- 
ously, “I’m  a poor  traveller— let  me  spend  the  night  here!” 

The  peasant  was  kind-hearted  and  gave  him  a night’s  lodg- 

Hours  later,  while  the  peasant  was  fast  asleep,  the  thief 
went  into  the  barn  and  stole  the  cow.  He  led  it  deep  into  the 



woods,  tied  it  to  a tree,  and  then  returned  to  the  peasant’s 

Early  in  the  morning,  when  the  peasant  arose,  he  found 
the  barn-door  open  and  the  cow  gone.  He  looked  high  and 
low  but  could  not  find  it. 

Then  a suspicion  occurred  to  him.  “Maybe  the  stranger 
took  it!”  He  hurried  into  the  house  but  he  found  the  stranger 
sound  asleep.  He  shook  him  so  that  he  awoke. 

“What  is  the  matter?”  asked  the  thief,  innocently. 

“Someone  has  stolen  my  cow!”  said  the  peasant. 

“You  poor  man!”  exclaimed  the  thief,  pityingly. 

Later,  when  it  was  safe  to  do  so,  the  thief  made  his  depar- 

He  went  into  the  woods,  untied  the  cow,  and  then  sold  it 
to  a peasant  in  the  next  village.  But,  as  he  left,  he  stole  the 
peasant’s  horse  and  returned  to  the  first  peasant  with  it. 

“I’ve  come  back  to  tell  you,”  he  told  him,  “that,  as  God  is 
my  witness,  I saw  your  cow  in  a peasant’s  barn  in  the  next 

Then,  very  casually,  he  offered  to  sell  him  the  horse  cheap. 
The  peasant  bought  it  and  the  thief  went  away  for  the  second 

The  peasant  then  mounted  the  horse  he  had  bought  and 
rode  off  to  the  next  village  to  claim  his  cow. 

Sure  enough,  he  found  her  tied  in  a stall  in  the  other 
peasant’s  barn. 

“Thief!”  cried  the  first  peasant.  “You  stole  my  cow!” 

“Thief  yourself!”  cried  the  second  peasant.  “You  stole  my 

“You’re  a liar — I bought  the  horse!” 

“Liar  yourself — I bought  the  cow!” 

And  before  you  could  pronounce  Con-stant-i-no-ple  they 
were  rolling  on  the  ground,  pummeling  each  other,  while  the 
thief  was  on  his  way  gleefully  rattling  the  money  in  his  pock- 
ets and  whistling  a gay  tune. 

Professional  Pride 

The  rabbi’s  fur  hat  was  stolen.  The  whole  town  was  stunned 
by  the  news.  It  was  generally  agreed  that  a professional  thief 
must  have  been  the  perpetrator  of  the  crime.  So  the  rabbi 
sent  for  a man  who  was  known  as  the  leader  of  all  the 
thieves  in  town. 



“What  do  you  think — will  you  be  able  to  get  back  my  fur 
cap?”  asked  the  rabbi. 

“Well,  that  depends,”  mused  the  thief.  “In  the  event  that 
one  of  my  disciples  stole  it,  I promise  I can  get  it  back  for 
you.  But  if  one  of  your  own  disciples  stole  it,  then.  Rabbi, 
you  had  better  forget  about  it!” 

Honor  among  Thieves 

Two  beggars,  one  blind  and  the  other  a cripple,  came  to  a 
Jewish  tenant-farmer  and  said  they  were  hungry.  The  farm- 
er’s wife  placed  a large  bowl  of  cherries  before  them. 

“You  take  one  and  I take  one,  but  always  wait  for  your 
turn,”  admonished  the  blind  man  with  cunning  for  he  was 
afraid  that  his  partner  would  try  to  cheat  him. 

“Agreed,”  said  the  cripple  readily. 

Then  they  both  attacked  the  cherries  with  relish. 

For  several  minutes  neither  of  them  spoke,  being  too  intent 
on  devouring  the  cherries.  Suddenly,  the  blind  beggar  caught 
the  wrist  of  the  cripple  and  raised  an  outcry:  “Liar!  Thief!” 

“How  dare  you  call  me  such  names!”  protested  the 
crippled  beggar  indignantly. 

“What  else  should  I call  you — you  wretch!”  rasped  the 
blind  man.  “Here  am  I behaving  like  a gentleman  and  taking 
only  two  cherries  at  a time  hut  just  because  I’m  blind  must 
you  take  advantage  of  me  and  steal  four  at  a time?” 

“How  in  the  world  do  you  know  I took  four?”  the  cripple 
asked  startled. 

“What  else  could  it  be?”  shot  back  his  blind  companion. 
“If  for  five  minutes  you  didn’t  say  ‘bool’  while  I ate  two  cher- 
ries at  a time  it  became  perfectly  clear  to  me  that  you  were 
cheating  and  taking  at  least  four  at  a time!” 

Liars  and  Braggarts 


In  Rabbinical  lore  there  were  four  classes  of  evil-doers  who 
would  be  denied  the  joys  of  the  World-to-Come.  They  were  the 
hypocrites,  talebearers,  scoffers  and  liars.  However,  the  Jewish 
folk-attitude  toward  liars,  as  reflected  in  its  tales  and  sayings,  was 
a great  deal  more  tolerant.  The  liar,  who  is  deceitful  because  of 



corrupt  aims,  is,  of  course,  considered  a rogue.  Yet  there  are  li- 
ars, and  also  braggarts,  who  are  recognized  as  being  quite 
harmless,  who  tell  untruths  or  exaggerate,  not  out  of  malice  and 
evil  intention,  but  out  of  sheer  perverseness  and  imaginativeness, 
or  because  of  some  childish  compulsion.  About  such  liars  and 
braggarts,  humorous  Jewish  lore  makes  merry.  “A  liar  should 
have  a good  memory,”  it  advises  good-naturedly. 


The  Strategists 

Two  rival  Jewish  merchants  met  in  a railway  station. 

“Where  are  you  going?”  asked  one. 

‘To  Pinsk.” 

“Ahah!”  said  the  other,  “you  tell  me  you  are  going  to 
Pinsk  because  you  think  I’ll  figure  you  are  going  to  Minsk. 
But  I happen  to  know  you  are  going  to  Pinsk.  So  what’s  the 
idea  of  lying?” 

Total  Destruction 

A poor  man,  whose  house  had  burnt  down,  trudged  from 
town  to  town  collecting  alms  with  which  to  rebuild  his  house. 

“Have  you  written  proof  that  your  house  was  burnt 
down?”  he  was  asked. 

“Oh,  the  proof!”  wailed  the  poor  man.  “That  too,  nebich, 
was  destroyed  in  the  big  fire!” 


A poor  Jewish  farmer  called  on  his  more  affluent  neighbor  to 
borrow  his  donkey. 

“I’m  sorry,  neighbor,”  said  the  well-to-do  farmer,  “but  my 
donkey  is  over  in  the  pasture  now.” 

At  that  very  moment  the  hee-haw  of  a donkey  was  heard 
coming  from  the  stable. 

“What  a foolish  excuse  to  give  me!”  said  the  poor  farmer 
angrily.  “Why,  your  donkey  has  just  brayed  in  its  stall!” 

The  well-to-do  farmer  became  offended. 

“Whom  would  you  rather  believe,”  he  asked  with  dignity, 
“the  braying  donkey  or  me?” 



The  Birds  That  Turned  to  Stone 15 

King  Solomon,  the  wisest  of  mankind,  understood  the  lan- 
guage of  the  birds  of  the  air,  the  beasts  in  the  forest,  the  fowl 
in  the  barnyard  and  the  fish  in  the  sea.  One  day  he  sat  at  the 
entrance  to  his  palace  on  the  Temple  Mount,  delighting  in 
the  bright  sky  and  clear  daylight.  Before  him  two  cooing 
birds  caressed  each  other,  twittering  merrily. 

As  the  King  looked  up  he  heard  one  bird  say  to  his  spouse, 
“Who  is  this  man  seated  here?”  And  she  answered,  “This  is 
the  King  whose  name  and  fame  fill  the  world.”  Then  the  bird 
answered  in  mocking  pride,  “And  do  they  call  even  him 
mighty?  How  is  his  power  sufficient  for  all  these  palaces  and 
fortresses?  Did  I so  desire  I could  overthrow  them  in  a sec- 
ond by  fluttering  one  wing.” 

His  spouse  encouraged  him,  saying,  “Do  so  and  show  your 
valor  and  power,  if  you  have  the  strength  to  carry  out  your 
words.”  And  Solomon,  listening  to  the  conversation  in  aston- 
ishment signed  to  the  bird  to  approach  and  asked  him  the 
cause  of  his  overweening  pride. 

Terrified,  the  trembling  bird  answered  the  august  King, 
“Let  my  Lord  the  King  grant  me  forgiveness  out  of  his  lov- 
ing-kindness and  goodness  of  heart.  I am  naught  but  a poor 
powerless  bird  who  can  do  him  no  evil.  All  that  I said  was 
only  to  please  my  wife  and  raise  myself  in  her  esteem.”  And 
Solomon  laughed  to  himself  and  sent  the  bird  back  to  his 

She,  meanwhile,  stood  on  the  roof  and  could  not  contain 
herself,  waiting  for  her  mate  to  return  and  tell  her  why  the 
King  had  sent  for  him.  When  he  came  back  she  asked  ex- 
citedly, “What  did  the  King  want?” 

And  his  chest  swelling  with  pride,  he  answered,  “The  King 
heard  my  words  and  entreated  me  not  to  bring  destruction 
upon  his  court  and  not  to  carry  out  my  purpose.” 

When  Solomon  heard  this  he  grew  wroth  with  the  brazen 
bird  and  changed  them  both  into  stone  slabs,  to  warn  others 
to  refrain  from  vain  bragging  and  empty  boasting,  and  to 
teach  women  folk  not  to  incite  their  chosen  ones  in  their  van- 
ity to  undertake  foolish  and  foolhardy  deeds. 

If  nowadays  you  gaze  at  the  southern  wall  of  the  Mosque 
of  Omar,  which  rises  on  the  site  of  Solomon’s  Temple,  you 
will  see  a marble  slab  set  in  a black  border;  it  is  veined 


the  human  comedy 

through  with  red  in  the  likeness  of  two  birds,  and  these  are 
the  birds  that  Solomon  turned  to  stone. 

Miracles  and  Wonders 

Two  disciples  of  rival  camps  were  bragging  about  their  re- 
spective wonder-working  rabbis. 

Take  my  rabbi,”  began  one  disciple,  “his  like  has  not  been 
seen  in  the  world  before.  He  can  do  such  wonders  that  would 
raise  your  hair  on  end  were  you  just  to  hear  about  them.  The 
other  day,  when  he  unexpectedly  brought  home  some  dinner- 
guests,  the  rebbitzen  told  him:  ‘I’ve  only  one  fish  in  the  pot!’ 
But  do  you  think  my  rabbi  was  upset?  Not  at  all!  ‘Look  again 
in  the  pot,’  he  told  her.  She  looked — and  what  do  you  sup- 
pose she  found?  Five  fish!” 

Don  t brag!”  chided  the  other  disciple.  “How  can  your 
rabbi  compare  to  mine?  The  other  day  he  sat  down  to  play 
cards  with  the  rebbitzen.  She  had  four  queens.  So  what  do 
you  suppose  my  rabbi  did?  Very  casually  he  laid  his  cards  on 
the  table.  He  had  five  kings!” 

“What  sort  of  grandmother’s  tale  are  you  telling  me!”  pro- 
tested the  other  disciple  indignantly.  “You  know  very  well 
there  are  only  four  kings!” 

“I’ll  tell  you  what  then,”  answered  the  other,  “let’s  make  a 
deal.  You  take  out  one  fish  from  your  rebbitzen’ s pot  and  I’ll 
take  a king  away  from  my  rabbi’s  cards!” 

Misers  and  Stingy  Men 

The  Great  Experiment 

Once  there  was  a miser  who  was  very  clever  at  thinking  up 
original  ideas. 

One  day  he  decided  that  his  horse  was  eating  too  much 

“He’ll  eat  me  out  of  my  house!”  he  wailed. 

So  he  decided  to  cut  down  on  his  horse’s  feed,  but  not  too 
drastically,  a little  bit  each  day.  In  this  way,  he  thought,  the 
creature  would  get  accustomed  to  eating  less. 

As  time  went  on,  although  the  horse  got  thinner  and  thin- 
ner, the  miser  was  overjoyed  to  see  that  it  did  easily  with  less 
food.  Naturally,  he  thought  he  was  a very  smart  man  and 


went  about  bragging  of  his  discovery.  But  one  fine  day,  what 
does  his  obliging  horse  do  but  stretch  itself  out  and  die! 

As  the  miser  looked  down  on  the  dead  horse  he  muttered: 
“A  pity!  What  a pity!  Just  when  I had  almost  got  him 
trained  not  to  eat  at  all  that  stupid  ass  had  to  go  ahead  and 

The  Sweating  Will 

The  town  miser,  who  had  never  given  a groschen  in  his  life 
to  the  poor,  fell  gravely  ill.  He  was  wracked  with  fever  but 
he  could  not  perspire.  It  was  absolutely  necessary  for  him  to 
perspire  if  he  was  to  live.  And  so  the  doctor  tried,  by  all 
homeopathic  means,  to  induce  him  to  sweat,  but  to  no  avail. 

Frightened,  the  miser  called  for  the  rabbi.  He  confessed 
and  he  drew  up  a will  in  which  he  left  a large  sum  for  char- 

“Write  it  down,  Rabbi!  Write  it  down!”  he  cried.  “It’s  for 
the  good  of  my  soul!” 

And  the  rabbi  wrote  down  everything  the  miser  told  him, 
when  suddenly  the  miser  gave  an  unearthly  cry:  “Hold  on. 
Rabbi,  I’m  sweating!” 

The  Orphan 

A rich  man,  who  was  a miser,  was  once  asked  to  give  a do- 
nation to  buy  matzos  for  the  poor.  He  gave  a trifling  sum  to 
the  committee. 

“Your  son,  who  is  a poor  man,  has  given  more  generously 
than  you,”  he  was  told  ironically. 

“How  can  you  compare  me  to  my  son?”  he  replied.  “He 
has  a father  who’s  a rich  man.  I have  no  father  at  all.” 

He  Got  His  Ruble  Back 

A rich  man,  who  had  been  stingy  all  his  life,  suddenly  sick- 
ened and  died. 

As  his  spirit  floated  down  into  the  other  world  the  demons 
seized  hold  of  him  by  his  hands  and  feet  and  whirled  him 
down  to  Hell. 

At  this  he  began  to  shriek:  “Help!  Let  me  go!  I belong  in 
Paradise  and  not  in  Hell!” 

“Only  people  who  have  done  good  on  earth  go  to  Heaven,” 
the  imps  teased  him. 



“But  I have  one  good  deed  to  my  credit,”  wailed  the  spirit. 
“What  is  that?”  they  asked  him. 

“Twenty  years  ago  I gave  a ruble  to  a poor  man.  I swear  I 
did!  Look  into  your  account  book  and  you’ll  see  it’s  entered 
to  my  credit.” 

The  demons,  not  knowing  what  to  do  with  him,  sent  a 
messenger  posthaste  to  consult  God  in  the  matter. 

“Return  his  ruble  to  the  wretch,”  commanded  God  angrily, 
“and  send  him  straight  to  the  Devil!” 

The  Miser 

The  ailing  miser  needed  the  aid  of  a specialist.  Yet  the  fees 
appalled  him:  $25  for  a first  visit  and  $10  for  subsequent  vis- 
its. Still,  it  was  life  or  death,  and  besides,  he  had  an  inspira- 

As  he  entered  the  doctor’s  inner  office  the  miser  exclaimed, 
“Well,  doctor,  here  I am  again.” 

The  doctor  examined  the  patient  with  great  thoroughness, 
then  said,  “And  as  for  the  treatment  . . . just  continue  . . . 
the  same  as  before.” 

Who  Counts? 

The  guests  were  bidding  their  hosts  farewell.  “And  I want  to 
tell  you,  Mrs.  Liebowitz,”  Mrs.  Ginsberg  concluded,  “your 
cookies  were  so  tasty,  I ate  four.” 

“You  ate  five,”  Mrs.  Liebowitz  corrected,  “but  who 

A Sure  Sign 

Once  a miser  died.  Even  when  the  deceased  was  being 
prepared  for  burial  his  wife  did  not  cry.  But  no  sooner  had 
the  funeral  procession  started  and  the  charity-collectors  began 
to  rattle  their  tin  boxes,  crying:  “Charity  saves  from  death!” 
when  the  wife  burst  into  bitter  weeping. 

“Up  till  now  you  didn’t  cry — why  do  you  carry  on  so 
now?”  her  son  rebuked  her. 

“Why  shouldn’t  I cry?”  wailed  the  widow.  “Now  that  I see 
that  your  father  doesn’t  run  away  when  the  charity-collectors 
come  around  I’m  definitely  convinced  he  is  dead!” 





The  sinner  is  dealt  with  almost  gently  in  Jewish  belief  and  in 
folklore.  This  is  due  to  the  ages-old  cultivation  among  Jews  of  a 
scorn  for  self-righteousness.  The  pious  man  says  about  an  evil- 
doer, even  if  he  himself  has  been  victimized  by  him:  “Let  God 
judge  him.”  Or,  if  in  anger  he  should  speak  harshly  of  him,  he 
hastens  to  add:  “May  God  not  punish  me  for  the  words.”  Besides, 
it  is  regarded  wrong  of  anyone  to  imagine  that  he  himself  is 
without  sin:  “There  is  not  a just  man  upon  earth  that  doeth  good 
and  sinneth  not.”  (Ecclesiastes  7.20.) 

There  is  a layer  of  mellow  humanism  in  Jewish  thought,  secu- 
lar as  well  as  religious,  which  shrinks  from  harsh  strictures 
against  the  misconduct  of  others.  “Live  and  let  live,”  is  its  benign 
attitude.  This  springs,  no  doubt,  from  a practical  realism  which 
starts  out  with  the  fundamental  recognition  that  men  are  not  an- 
gels and  that  everybody  has  his  weaknesses  and  limitations.  After 
all,  sinning  is  a matter  of  degree — everybody  sins,  from  the  holy 
rabbi  down  to  the  tavern  roisterer! 

In  Jewish  folk-humor  the  sinner  gets  a merry  ribbing — but  no 
more.  Frequently,  however,  as  in  the  delightful  stories,  Saint  and 
Sinner.  by  the  Preacher  of  Dubno,  and  in  Heavenly  Justice,  he  is 
contrasted  with  scoffing  hilarity  to  the  overpious  saint.  Surpris- 
ingly enough,  he  gets  the  better  end  of  the  treatment  here.  And 
this,  not  because  he  is  considered  an  admirable  character.  Far 
from  it.  He  serves  merely  as  a convenient  pretext  to  shoot  a 
barbed  arrow  at  the  holier-than-thou  men  who  expect  heavenly 
rewards  for  their  virtue.  As  such,  these  jokes  about  sinners  and 
saints  have  served  as  an  excellent  corrective  in  Jewish  life,  for 
they  preach  the  doctrine  of  the  Golden  Mean  and  warn  against 


Saint  and  Sinner 16 

A rich  man,  who  was  a profligate,  a souse  and  a lecher,  died 
in  a certain  town.  The  entire  community  mourned  his  death 
and  followed  his  hearse  to  his  last  resting  place.  What  a 
wailing,  what  a lamentation,  was  heard  as  his  coffin  was  low- 
ered into  the  grave!  In  the  recollection  of  the  oldest  inhabit- 



ant  no  rabbi  or  sage  had  ever  departed  this  life  amidst  such 
general  sorrow. 

It  chanced  that  on  the  following  day  another  rich  man  died 
in  the  town:  He  was  just  the  opposite  of  the  first  in  character 
and  manner  of  living.  He  was  ascetic  and  dined  on  practically 
nothing  but  dry  bread  and  turnips.  He  had  been  pious  all  the 
days  of  his  life  and  sat  all  the  time  in  the  House  of  Study 
poring  over  the  Talmud.  Nonetheless,  no  one  except  his  own 
family  mourned  his  death.  His  funeral  passed  almost  unno- 
ticed, and  he  was  laid  to  rest  in  the  presence  of  only  a hand- 

A stranger,  who  happened  to  be  visiting  in  the  town  at  the 
time,  was  filled  with  wonder,  and  asked: 

“Explain  to  me  the  riddle  of  this  town’s  strange  behavior. 
It  honors  a profligate  yet  ignores  a saint!” 

To  this  one  of  the  townsmen  replied: 

“Know  that  the  rich  man  who  was  buried  yesterday,  al- 
though he  was  a profligate  and  a drunkard,  was  the  leading 
benefactor  of  the  town.  He  was  easy-going  and  merry  and 
loved  all  the  good  things  in  life.  Practically  everybody  in  this 
town  profited  from  him.  He’d  buy  wine  from  one,  chickens 
from  another,  geese  from  a third,  and  cheese  from  a fourth. 
And,  being  kindhearted,  he’d  pay  well.  That’s  why  he  is 
missed  and  we  mourn  after  him.  But  what  earthly  use  was 
that  other  one,  the  saint,  to  anybody?  He  lived  on  bread  and 
turnips  and  no  one  ever  made  a kopek  on  him.  Believe  me, 
no  one  will  miss  him!” 

Heavenly  Justice 

A saint  and  a sinner  died  on  the  same  day,  and  both  ap- 
peared before  the  Heavenly  Judgment  Seat  to  hear  their  re- 
ward or  punishment. 

First  the  saint  was  called  up. 

“What  reward,  in  your  opinion,  do  you  deserve?”  the 
Heavenly  Judge  asked  him. 

“I  deserve  Paradise,”  he  said  confidently. 

The  angels  laughed. 

“What  makes  you  think  you’re  so  deserving?”  the  saint  was 

“I  always  lived  uprightly,”  answered  the  saint.  “I  studied 
the  Torah  night  and  day.  I faithfully  observed  all  the  six 
hundred  and  thirteen  regulations  of  piety.  Furthermore,  I 


renounced  as  evil  all  the  pleasures  of  life,  lived  with  my  ugly 
wife  for  fifty  years  and  never  was  unfaithful  to  her.” 

“Truly  a tzaddikl"  cried  the  angels  rapturously. 

“Just  a moment!”  called  out  the  Accusing  Angel.  “I  wish 
to  call  a witness  who  will  disprove  this  tzaddik’s  hypocritical 

Thereupon,  he  called  the  soul  of  a tiny  flea  to  the  witness- 

“Tell  the  Court  what  this  man  did  to  you,”  the  Accusing 
Angel  demanded  of  him. 

The  flea  then  spoke: 

“One  day,  as  I was  taking  a nap  in  his  ear,  what  does  this 
brute  do  but  stretch  out  his  huge  hairy  hand  and  crush  me  to 

“When  did  that  happen?”  asked  the  Accusing  Angel. 

“On  a Sabbath.” 

Triumphantly  the  Accusing  Angel  turned  to  the  Court. 

“Did  the  Court  hear  that?”  he  cried.  “This  ‘tzaddik’  killed 
a defenceless  little  creature,  God’s  own  creation,  and  on  the 
holy  Sabbath,  too!” 

The  angels  began  to  murmur  angrily  amongst  themselves. 

“This  is  really  a serious  matter!”  the  Heavenly  Tribunal 
declared.  “We  cannot  decide  this  case  right  away  so  the  judg- 
ment will  have  to  wait  until  the  coming  of  the  Messiah.  Until 
that  time,  it  is  decreed  that  the  accused  tzaddik  and  the 
witness  flea  shall  both  be  confined  in  the  same  cell.” 

And  they  led  the  tzaddik  away. 

Then  tremblingly,  the  sinner  came  forward  to  be  judged. 

‘Tell  us,  what  in  your  own  opinion  do  you  deserve?”  the 
Heavenly  Tribunal  asked  him. 

The  sinner  burst  into  sobs  and  wailed: 

“God’s  justice  has  at  last  caught  up  with  me!  I’ve  no  doubt 
that  the  fiery  caldrons  of  all  the  purgatories  are  already 
boiling  for  me — and  serves  me  right  too!  There  isn’t  a vice 
that  I didn’t  practice,  a sin  that  I didn’t  commit,  a holy  pre- 
cept I didn’t  violate.  I robbed  widows  and  orphans,  stole 
from  the  charity-box,  slandered  all  my  neighbors  and  lusted 
after  strange  women.  But  I’m  fully  reconciled  to  my  fate — 
pronounce  your  punishment  and  let  us  be  done  with  it!” 

“What  a wretch!”  cried  the  angels  in  horror.  “He  deserves 
a place  in  the  bottommost  purgatory!” 

“Just  a moment!”  cried  the  angelic  counsel  for  the  defen- 
dant. “I  wish  to  call  a witness  with  whose  testimony  I will 


the  human  comedy 

prove  that  not  only  was  this  man  not  the  villain  that  he  has 
painted  himself  but  is  in  fact  a saint,  a noble  creature!” 

And  he  called  to  the  witness  stand  the  soul  of  a charming 
young  widow. 

“You  tell  your  story,”  he  bade  her. 

“?ne  day,”  she  began,  “while  I was  all  alone  a fire  broke 
out  in  the  house.  Soon  the  flames  enveloped  it  and  I was  in 
danger  of  being  burned  alive,  when  this  good  man,  hearing 
my  cries  for  help,  broke  through  the  flames  and  rescued  me1” 
The  angels  were  amazed.  “He’s  not  such  a bad  sort  after 
all!”  they  murmured. 

;This  is  a very  baffling  case!”  declared  the  Heavenly 
Tribunal.  “Judgment  is  therefore  postponed  until  the  coming 
of  the  Messiah.  In  the  meantime,  we  order  that  both  accused 
and  his  witness  be  confined  in  one  cell  and  wait  for  the  first 
blast  from  the  shofar  of  Redemption!” 

Filial  Love11 

A rich  man,  having  confidence  in  his  son,  gave  him  all  his 
property  in  his  lifetime.  After  a while  the  son  commenced  to 
neglect  his  father,  ill-treating  him  and  sending  him  awav  to 
be  among  the  beggars. 

One  day  the  old  man,  clad  in  tatters,  met  his  grandson  and 
asked  him  to  beg  his  father  to  let  him  have  a mantle  to  cover 
himself,  as  it  was  so  cold. 

After  much  begging  the  father  sent  his  son  up  to  the  loft 
and  told  him  to  fetch  a certain  mantle  which  was  hanging  on 
a hook.  Whilst  on  the  loft  the  boy  took  a knife  and  cut  the 
mantle  in  half. 

The  father,  wondering  what  the  boy  was  doing  all  that 
time,  went  to  find  out.  The  son  told  him  that  he  had  been 
busy  cutting  the  mantle  in  half  and  added  that  he  would  give 
his  grandfather  one  half  and  keep  the  other  half  for  his  own 
father  when  he  grew  old. 

. Th®  man  was  greatly  surprised  at  this  reply  and,  recogniz- 
ing the  wickedness  of  his  action,  took  his  father  back  and 
treated  him  with  all  honour. 


Yoshke  the  Drunkard  died.  Members  of  the  Burial  Society 
came  and  prepared  him  for  his  final  rest.  When  the  body  was 
lowered  into  the  grave  not  one  pious  man  had  a good  word 


to  say  for  the  wretch  with  which  to  send  him  off  into  the  life 

Just  as  the  grave-digeer  lifted  his  spade  to  cover  the  coffin 
with  earth  a compassionate  old  Jew  cried  out: 

“Just  a moment!  How  can  we  let  the  dead  depart  from  this 
life  without  a good  word  from  those  of  us  who  knew  him? 
Believe  me,  he  was  not  as  bad  as  you  think!  I myself  know 
that  he  has  a son  in  New  York  who  is  a thousand  times 
worse  a guzzler  than  he  ever  was!’’ 

The  members  of  the  Burial  Society  heaved  a sigh  of  relief. 
“What  a pious  man  he  was!”  they  exclaimed  heartily. 

When  Prayer  Is  No  Help 

A saint  and  a sinner  were  once  fellow  passengers  on  an 
ocean  voyage.  Suddenly  a storm  broke.  The  ship  seemed  in 
danger  of  sinking.  Thereupon  all  the  crew  and  the  passengers 
began  to  pray. 

“Save  us,  O Lord!”  cried  the  sinner. 

“Sh-sh!”  warned  the  saint.  “Don’t  let  God  know  you  are 
here  or  it  will  be  the  end  of  all  of  us!” 


A group  of  young  miscreants  were  caueht  redhanded  break- 
ing the  Sabbath  peace.  They  were  smoking,  playing  cards  and 
doing  other  things  forbidden  on  the  Sabbath. 

On  the  following  day,  when  they  were  brought  up  on 
charges  before  the  rabbi,  he  sternly  demanded  an  explanation 
of  them. 

The  first  said:  “Rabbi,  I was  absent-minded;  I forgot  that  it 
was  the  Sabbath.” 

‘That  could  be,”  said  the  rabbi,  stroking  his  beard  reflec- 
tively. “You  are  forgiven!” 

The  second  said:  “I  also  was  absent-minded;  I forgot  that 
one  mustn’t  gamble  on  the  Sabbath.” 

“That  could  be,”  said  the  rabbi,  stroking  his  beard  reflec- 
tively. “You  are  forgiven.” 

Then  the  turn  came  for  the  owner  of  the  house  in  which 
the  young  men  had  been  found  desecrating  the  Sabbath. 

“And  what  is  your  excuse?”  asked  the  rabbi.  “Were  you 
absent-minded  too?” 

“Indeed  I was,  Rabbi,”  answered  the  man  regretfully. 


the  human  comedy 

“What  did  you  forget?” 

“I  forgot  to  pull  the  curtains  down!”  said  the  man. 

From  Bad  to  Worse 

^s3d:rabbi  Sat  d6eP  “ th°Ught’  a youth  came  before 

1 want  to  confess— rm  guilty  of  a great  sin  I 
faded  w?y,  ,grace  one  day  last  month  ” g 1 

l SK-tsk!  murmured  the  Rabbi.  “How  can  anv  Jew  eat 
without  saying  grace?”  y Jew  eat 

hands?’^  COUld  1 Say  graC6’  Rabbi>  when  1 hadn’t  washed  my 

the  Rabbi‘  “How  can  a Jew  swallow  a 
mouthful  without  first  washing  his  hands?” 

tRabbi’  the  food  was  not  kosher.” 

“But  C3u  a Jew  eat  food  that’s  not  kosher?’ 

Ihe  home  of  a Gemikr  W°r‘d  ko!her;  “ "»  » 

hoo™f'a  Ge“„,nir  ab'6  aPO!“el  H°W  “ «“ 

,™tgabbi’  Jew  was  willing  to  feed  me!” 

fS  t Wlcked  he!”  cried  the  Rabbi.  “Who  has  ever 

h “But  Raa£T”  Sin!  f°u°d  t0  anybody  who  is  hungiy?” 
me  But  Rabbi,  argued  the  youth,  “it  was  the  Day  of  Atone- 


Traditional  Types 

An  entire  gallery  of  distinctive  traditional  types  has  been 
created  by  the  volatile  forces  in  Jewish  life.  They  are  all  to  be 
muet  with  in  folklore,  many  of  them  in  colorful  humorous  garb. 
Though  different  from  one  another,  every  type  had  an  organic 
unity  with  the  rest,  because  all  emerged  from  the  same  social-cul- 
tural environment.  The  confined  ghetto  of  bygone  days,  in  which 
Jews  led  their  own  semi-autonomous  existence,  was  an  entertain- 
ing as  well  as  a tragic  microcosm. 

Jew,  an  adept  at  the  Wise  King’s  teaching  to  do  every- 
thing in  its  own  season,  found  time  to  scoff  as  well  as  to  revere, 
to  be  skeptical  as  well  as  to  extoll.  This  was  not  done  from 
caprice  or  malice,  but  rather  out  of  good-humored  raillery, 
prompted  by  a recognition  that  the  noblest  and  the  wisest  also 
have  their  comic  and  foolish  sides.  Therefore,  all  life  passed  in 
review  before  the  folk-humorist  who  was  no  respecter  of  persons 
or  of  the  degree  of  their  eminence.  Everybody  without  exception 
was  a candidate  for  the  butt  of  his  jokes:  preachers  and  rabbis, 
scholars  and  teachers,  sextons  and  charity  collectors,  cantors  and 
marriage  brokers,  waiters  and  innkeepers,  doctors  and  patients, 
tailors  and  butchers,  shopkeepers  and  peddlers,  rich  men,  poor 
men,  philanthropists  and  misers.  In  short,  it  was  the  procession  of 
the  whole  Jewish  people,  a motley  array  of  characters  in  all  of 
their  complex  laugh-provoking  relationships. 

Take  the .hazzan,  the  synagogue  cantor.  He  often  is  as  vain  of 
himself  and  his  art  as  any  operatic  tenor,  a prey  to  all  the  tan- 
frums  and  exhibitionism  of  the  artistic  temperament.  Yet  he  has 
his  special  characteristics  due  probably  to  the  peculiar  role  he 
plays  in  the  congregation.  More  often  than  not  he  serves  as  a 
cause  of  contention  among  its  members.  Either  he  is  idolized  and 
hero-worshipped  as  a nightingale  of  God,  or  he  serves  as  the 
butt  of  the  sarcastic  jokes  of  his  deriders. 

It  is  well  known  that  there  are  among  Jews  many  passionate 
music  lovers.  There  is  hardly  one  among  the  pious  who  doesn’t 
think  of  himself  as  a bit  of  a sagacious  musical  critic  in  matters 




of  the  cantorial  art.  He  is  avid  in  discussing  and  analyzing  all  the 
technical  faults  of  a cantor,  ready  to  point  out  his  inferior  musi- 
cianship or  his  lack  of  understanding  of  the  text  in  his  interpreta- 
tion. And  just  like  an  Italian  opera  enthusiast,  who  performs  a 
musical  autopsy  on  a singer,  the  cantorial  connoisseur  too  con- 
trasts his  victim’s  failings  with  the  virtues  of  more  favored  can- 
tors. However,  because  there  are  more  cantors  there  are  also 
more  carping  musical  critics  among  Jews. 

The  cantor  himself  does  not  always  enjoy  the  congregational 
civil  war  over  him.  Being  sensitive,  like  any  other  artist,  he  takes 
offence  easily.  He  is  ready  to  hand  in  his  resignation  upon  the 
slightest  provocation.  In  fact,  many  cantors  never  let  the 
synagogue  grass  grow  under  their  feet,  but  are  constantly  on  the 
lookout  for  other  posts;  the  cantorial  pasture  always  looks 
greener  elsewhere. 

It  was  the  great  poverty  of  the  Jews  in  Europe  that  made  them 
regard  the  few  Jewish  millionaires  with  awe,  and  sometimes 
even  with  incredulity.  Because  of  the  isolation  of  ghetto  life  a 
Rothschild  or  a Montefiore  was  largely  a legendary  creature  to 
them.  They  tried  to  reconstruct  in  imagination  the  sort  of  world 
in  which  these  rich  men  lived.  And  out  of  this  fantasy  came  a 
number  of  stories  in  which,  with  studied  innocence  and  sly  ban- 
ter, was  depicted  the  life  of  luxury  they  were  supposed  to 
lead — the  way  they  did  business,  dispensed  charity  and  ran  their 

It  was  only  natural  that  the  many  philanthropies  of  the 
Rothschilds  and  the  Brodskys  should  have  attracted  them,  like 
flies  to  honey,  all  the  schnorrers  in  creation.  There  are,  ac- 
cordingly, many  anecdotes  about  Rothschild’s  encounters  with 
these  buzzards.  Now,  of  course,  when  Jews  said  “Rothschild”  it 
wasn’t  necessarily  any  particular  member  of  that  large  family 
they  had  in  mind;  it  was  a generic  name  for  all  Jewish  mil- 

Perhaps  the  wittiest  of  all  these  anecdotes  are  those  which 
describe  the  pity  of  the  poor  for  the  pleasures  of  the  rich,  as  in 
Montefiore’s  Buttons  and  Rich  Man’s  Folly.  In  this  connection  it 
is  interesting  to  point  out  that  it  was  this  same  humorous  pity  for 
the  rich  which  led  to  the  adoption  by  East  Side  Jewish  folklore  of 
John  D.  Rockefeller.  “Poor  Rockefeller!”  the  Yiddish  folksay 
runs  commiseratingly.  “He’s  the  richest  man  in  the  world  and  just 
look  at  him — all  he  can  eat  is  crackers  and  milk!” 

Perhaps  peculiar  to  the  American  scene  alone  is  the  old-time 
Jewish  restaurant  waiter.  You  never  see  him  flatter  or  kowtow  to 
his  customers.  He  is  proud  of  his  independence  and,  because  of 
the  jealousy  with  which  he  guards  it,  he  frequently  acts  with  de- 
fensive gruffness.  To  a genial,  submissive  customer  he  acts  like  a 



protector,  a patron,  even  like  a father — advising,  warning,  lectur- 
ing and  scolding.  He  tells  him  what’s  good  and  what’s  bad  for  his 
health,  what  to  choose  on  the  menu  and  what  to  avoid  like  the 

But  woe  to  the  arrogant  high-and-mighty  customer!  He  not 
only  browbeats  him  but  shrivels  him  with  scorn.  And  if  he  pro- 
vokes him  too  much  he  tells  him  straight  up  and  down  to  go  to 
another  restaurant — or  to  the  devil!  In  fact,  a customer  rash 
enough  to  offend  a Jewish  waiter  is  liable  to  remember  the  en- 
counter with  lingering  indigestion,  and  that  not  so  much  from  the 
food  he  ate,  but  from  the  near  apoplexy  brought  on  by  the  ex- 
citement of  the  collision.  Yes,  the  old-time  Jewish  waiter  is  an  up- 
standing mettlesome  fellow,  and  it  is  these  traits  of  his  which  are 
mirthfully  recorded  in  anecdote. 


Rothschild  and  Other  Rich  Men 

His  Bad  Luck  Held 

A petitioner  once  came  to  see  the  great  banker  Rothschild 
in  Vienna. 

“I’ve  been  having  a lot  of  bad  luck  all  my  life,”  he  com- 

“What  is  your  profession?”  asked  the  banker  politely. 

“I’m  a musician.  I played  for  years  in  the  Philharmonic 
Orchestra  but  ever  since  it  was  disbanded  I haven’t  been  able 
to  get  any  employment.” 

“Too  bad,  too  bad,”  murmured  Rothschild  commiser- 
atingly.  “What  sort  of  instrument  do  you  play,  anyway?” 

“I  play  the  bassoon.” 

“The  bassoon!”  echoed  Rothschild,  his  face  lighting  up. 
“That’s  wonderful!  You  must  have  heard  how  much  I love 
good  music.  In  fact,  I have  a surprise  for  you — I own  a bas- 
soon! I’m  simply  crazy  about  the  bassoon;  it’s  my  favorite  or- 
chestral instrument!  Come,  my  friend,  let’s  go  into  the  music 
room  and  you’ll  play  me  something  on  the  bassoon.” 

“What  was  I telling  you,  Herr  Baron?”  wailed  the  peti- 
tioner. “I’ve  never  had  anything  but  bad  luck  in  my  life.  Of 
all  instruments  I might  have  mentioned  I had  to  go  and  pick 
a bassoon!” 



Discovery  at  7 a.m. 

The  banker  Baron  de  Rothschild  of  Paris  was  a hard  task- 
master to  his  clerks.  Once,  he  called  them  together  and  said, 
It’s  about  time  that  you  all  came  into  the  counting  house 
early.  From  now  on  you  have  to  report  to  work  at  seven  a.m. 
To  set  you  all  an  example  in  punctuality  I will  do  the  same. 
And  what  I,  Rothschild,  can  do  all  of  you  can  do!” 

Then  up  spoke  a thin  frightened  little  clerk,  “Monsieur  le 
Baron,  it  may  be  all  right  for  you  to  come  in  an  hour  earlier. 
That  way  you  have  the  pleasure  of  discovering  one  hour  ear- 
lier each  day  that  you  are  the  mighty  Baron  de  Rothschild. 
But  take  me,  for  instance,  Jacques  Velvel-Shmul — when  I 
come  in  an  hour  earlier  what  do  I discover?  I discover,  Mon- 
sieur le  Baron,  one  hour  earlier  than  usual  than  I am  the 
clerk,  Jacques  Velvel-Shmul,  whose  salary  is  seventy-five 
francs  a month — woe  is  me!” 

Whose  Money? 

The  famous  Viennese  Jewish  wit  and  author,  Saphir,  was  a 
protege  of  Baron  Rothschild,  for  he  could  never  make  a liv- 
ing out  of  his  writing.  His  dependence  on  the  largesse  of  the 
banker  embittered  him  no  end. 

One  day,  when  he  came  for  his  annual  stioend.  Rothschild 
spoke  to  him  in  a bantering  tone  of  voice:  “Ah,  Saphir,  I see 
you’ve  come  for  your  money!” 

“For  my  money,  Baron?”  retorted  Saphir  ironically.  “You 
mean — for  your  money.” 

Living  de  Luxe 

In  the  Jewish  cemetery  at  Frankfort-Am-Main  lies  the  mag- 
nificent grave  of  Reh  Amshel  Rothschild,  the  founder  of  the 
famous  banking  family. 

One  day  a poor  man  from  Galicia  came  to  see  the  grave 
and  stood  marvelling  at  the  tombstone’s  beauty  and  costliness. 

Tsk-tsk,  that  s what  I call  living!”  he  murmured  to  himself 
in  rapture. 

Rothschild’s  Poverty 

Bernstein  the  schnorrer  was  passing  Rothschild’s  house  one 
day  when  Epstein  the  schnorrer  was  bodily  thrown  out  of  it. 


“What  happened  to  you?”  asked  Bernstein,  when  his  col- 
league had  picked  himself  up. 

‘They  claimed  in  there,”  said  Epstein,  “that  they  kicked 
me  out  because  I was  making  too  much  noise,  but  they  can’t 
fool  me!  Things  are  bad  with  Rothschild;  I just  saw,  in  that 
big  parlor,  his  two  girls  playing  on  one  piano!” 

The  Rights  of  Schnorrers 

For  several  years  two  brothers  had  presented  themselves  at 
the  home  of  Rothschild  once  a month  and  each  had  been 
given  100  marks.  Then,  one  died,  so  the  survivor  made  the 
usual  call  alone. 

The  keeper  of  the  Rothschild  funds  handed  him  the  usual 
100  marks. 

“But  you’ve  made  a mistake!”  the  schnorrer  protested.  “I 
should  get  200  marks,  100  for  my  brother.” 

“No,”  said  the  treasurer,  “your  brother  is  dead.  This  is  your 

“What  do  you  mean?”  The  schnorrer  drew  himself  up  in- 
dignantly. “Am  I my  brother’s  heir ...  or  is  Rothschild?” 

Montefiore’s  Buttons 

‘They  say  that  when  Sir  Moses  Montefiore  was  received  by 
the  Czar  he  wore  a fancy  dress-coat  on  which  the  buttons,  all 
ten  of  them,  were  of  gold  and  each  one  was  studded  with  a 
diamond  worth  five  thousand  rubles! 

“Now  I ask  you — aren’t  the  rich  first-class  idiots?  What  on 
earth  makes  them  do  silly  things  like  that?  Take  me,  for  in- 
stance. On  my  Sabbath  gabardine  I have  three  buttons.  All 
three  of  them  together  are  worth  half  a groschen.  Should  I 
lose  one — so  what?  It’s  like  losing  a chick-pea.  But  imagine 
that  Montefiore — how  he  must  fuss  and  take  care  and  keep 
watch  over  his  precious  buttons!  Should  he  lose  one — good- 
bye to  five  thousand  smackers!  Tell  me  your  honest  opinion, 
do  you  think  he  sleeps  nights?  Achl  the  pleasures  of  the 

The  Price  of  a Millionaire 

When  the  millionaire  Brodsky  came  to  a small  Ukrainian 
town  all  the  inhabitants  poured  out  into  the  streets  to  wel- 
come him.  With  official  pomp  he  was  led  to  the  inn  where  he 



ordered  two  eggs  for  breakfast.  When  he  had  finished,  the 
innkeeper  asked  him  for  twenty  rubles.  Brodsky  was  aston- 

“Are  eggs  so  rare  in  these  parts?”  he  asked. 

“No,  but  Brodskys  are!”  was  the  quick  answer. 

The  One  to  Call  the  Tune 

Nathanson,  the  wealthy  millinery  supply  wholesaler,  lay  dy- 
ing. He  motioned  to  his  wife  to  come  nearer  to  his  bedside. 

“Leah,  I neglected  to  draw  up  a will,”  he  began  in  a weak 
voice.  “Listen  carefully  to  what  I’m  going  to  tell  you: 

“First  of  all,  Pm  leaving  the  business  to  Irving.” 

“You’re  making  a mistake,”  protested  his  wife  tearfully. 
“Irving  has  only  one  thing  on  his  brain — horses.  He’ll  surely 
ruin  the  business!  I think  you’d  do  better  if  you  left  it  to 
Max;  he’s  serious  minded  and  steady.” 

“Good — let  it  be  Max  then,”  sighed  the  dying  man 

“Our  summer  house  in  the  Catskills  I leave  to  Rachel,” 
Nathanson  continued. 

“Rachel!”  exclaimed  his  wife.  “What  does  Rachel  need  our 
summer  home  for?  Her  husband  is  rich  enough.  It  would  be 
better  if  you  gave  it  to  Julia  who  is  poor.” 

“Very  well,”  sighed  her  husband.  “Let  Julia  have  it.  Now, 
as  for  the  car,  I leave  it  to  Benny.” 

“Benny?”  asked  his  wife  in  surprise.  “What  does  Benny 
need  your  car  for?  Hasn’t  he  got  one  already?  Believe  me, 
Louie  could  make  much  better  use  of  it!” 

At  this  a look  of  exasperation  came  into  the  dying  man’s 
face.  Collecting  his  ebbing  strength  he  cried,  “Listen,  Leah! 
Who’s  dying  around  here — you  or  I?” 

True  Grief 

At  the  funeral  of  the  richest  man  in  town  a great  many 
mourners  turned  out  to  pay  their  last  respects  t p the  dead. 
Among  the  multitude  was  a poor  man  who  heaved  deep  sighs 
as  he  followed  the  hearse. 

“Are  you  a close  relation  of  the  deceased?”  someone  asked 
him  commiseratingly. 

“I’m  no  relation  at  all!”  he  replied. 

“Then  why  do  you  weep?” 

“That’s  why.” 



Steam-Bath  Soliloquy 

“Believe  me,  uncle,  it’s  a topsy-turvy  world!  The  rich  mer- 
chants have  all  the  money  in  the  world,  yet  they’re  the  ones 
who  are  being  stuffed  with  credit  and  goods,  but  the  poor 
little  shopkeeper  who  never  has  a broken  groschen  in  his  till, 
he’s  got  to  pay  cash  for  everything!  If  there  was  justice  in  the 
world  wouldn’t  they  arrange  things  just  the  opposite?  The 
rich  merchant  who  has  plenty  of  money  would  be  forced  to 
pay  cash  and  the  little  shopkeeper  who  hasn’t  a groschen 
would  get  plenty  of  credit.  Would  that  be  so  terrible?  Under 
my  plan,  suppose  the  poor  shopkeeper  cannot  afford  to  pay 
his  bills.  So  what?  The  rich  merchant  who  extends  him  the 
credit  will  therefore  lose  money  and  will  probably  become 
poor,  too.  Where’s  the  tragedy?  Once  he’s  a poor  man  he’ll  be 
entitled  to  unlimited  credit.  So  what’s  there  to  worry  about 
for  anyone?” 

Rich  Man’s  Folly 

A poor  man  ran  home  in  haste  and  told  his  wife  breathlessly, 
“I’ve  just  been  to  see  the  richest  man  in  town  and  I found 
him  at  dinner  eating  blintzes.  As  I stood  there  and  smelled 
their  delicious  fragrance,  the  juices  in  me  began  to  work. 
Those  blintzes  certainly  must  taste  wonderful!  Believe  me 
when  rich  men  eat  something,  it’s  something." 

Then  the  poor  man  sighed  longingly.  “Oh,  if  I could  only 
taste  blintzes  just  once!” 

“But  how  can  I make  blintzes ? I need  eggs  for  that,”  an- 
swered his  wife. 

“Do  without  the  eggs,”  her  husband  advised. 

“And  ril  need  cream.” 

“Well,  you’ll  have  to  do  without  the  cream.” 

“And  you  think  sugar  doesn’t  cost  any  money?” 

“You’ll  have  to  do  without  sugar,  then.” 

The  wife  then  set  to  work  and  made  the  blintzes,  but  with- 
out eggs,  cream  and  sugar.  With  a judicious  air  the  husband 
started  to  eat  them,  chewed  them  slowly  and  carefully.  Then 
suddenly  a look  of  bewilderment  came  into  his  face.  “Let  me 
tell  you,  Sarah,”  he  murmured,  “for  the  life  of  me,  I can’t  see 
what  those  rich  people  see  in  blintzesl” 


Credit  Too  Good 

Kogan  borrowed  a hundred  rubles  from  Katz,  promising  to 
repay  him  in  a week.  And  he  did,  much  to  Katz’s  surprise. 

A few  days  later,  again  needing  funds,  Kogan  borrowed 
another  hundred  rubles,  again  agreeing  to  pay  it  back  in  a 
week.  Once  more  he  kept  his  word. 

Not  long  after,  Kogan  asked  for  another  hundred,  but  this 
time  Katz  said,  “Enough’s  enough!  Twice  already  you’ve 
fooled  me!  Three  times  would  be  too  much  to  expect!” 

A Father  with  Foresight 18 

Once  there  was  a rich  man  who  owned  a factory  and  other 
business  establishments.  In  addition,  he  was  the  proprietor  of 
the  only  wine-house  in  town.  He  had  two  sons  and  heirs:  one 
was  respectable  and  well-behaved,  the  other  was  a roisterer 
and  spendthrift. 

A time  came  when  the  rich  man  felt  that  he  was  reaching 
his  end.  So  he  drew  up  a will  in  which  he  left  his  factory  and 
all  his  other  properties  to  his  profligate  son.  To  his  good  and 
upright  son  he  left  only  the  wine-house. 

When  his  friends  heard  of  this  they  reproached  him,  say- 
ing, “How  did  you  come  to  do  such  a silly  thing?  Why  are 
you  leaving  the  bulk  of  your  wealth  to  that  good-for-nothing 
sot  who  will  only  waste  the  wealth  you  accumulated  with  the 
effort  of  a lifetime?” 

_ “Believe  me,”  said  the  rich  man,  “I  have  carefully  con- 
sidered the  matter.  Were  I to  leave  the  wine-house  to  my 
good-for-nothing  son  there’s  no  doubt  that  he’d  drink  it  all 
away  in  no  time  with  his  boon  companions.  In  the  end,  his 
creditors  would  take  it  away  from  him.  Therefore,  in  order  to 
prevent  this  situation  from  arising,  I have  left  the  wine-house 
to  my  sober,  well-behaved  son,  and  my  other  possessions  to 
his  brother.  You  see  it’s  all  very  simple!  Because  my  wine- 
shop is  the  only  one  in  town,  it  is  certain  that  my  profligate 
son  will  go  to  drink  there  with  his  bad  companions.  I have  no 
doubt  that  he  will  thus  fritter  away  the  factory  and  every- 
thing else.  In  that  case  it  will  be  my  good  son  who,  in  the 
long  run,  will  not  only  have  the  wine-shop  but  will  also  ac- 
quire the  rest  of  my  wealth.” 




Out  of  Style 

The  tailoring  business  was  so  bad  that  Feitelberg  said  to  his 
partner,  “Only  the  Messiah  could  help  us.” 

“How  could  even  the  Messiah  help  us?”  asked  the  partner 
in  despair. 

“Why,”  said  Feitelberg,  “he’d  bring  back  the  dead,  and 
naturally  they’d  need  new  clothes.” 

“But  some  of  the  dead  are  tailors,”  the  partner  observed 

“So  what?”  asked  Feitelberg.  “They  wouldn’t  have  a 
chance!  How  many  would  know  this  year’s  styles?” 

Both  from  Minsk 

A Czarist  police  inspector,  glittering  in  his  gold-braid  uni- 
form, was  walking  through  the  streets  of  Moscow  when  he 
passed  an  anemic  little  Jewish  tailor  who  failed  to  doff  his  cap. 

“Here,  Jew!”  he  roared  angrily  and  seized  the  unlucky  tai- 
lor by  the  scruff  of  his  neck  and  shook  him  until  his  teeth 
rattled.  “What  do  you  mean  by  passing  me  without  removing 
your  cap!  I won’t  be  surprised  if  you  haven’t  even  a residence 
permit!  Quick,  tell  me — where  do  you  come  from?” 

“From  Minsk,”  stammered  the  Jew. 

“Now,  what  about  your  hat?”  rasped  the  police  inspector, 
kicking  him  in  the  shins. 

“Also  from  Minsk,”  stuttered  the  tailor 

Napoleon  and  the  Jewish  Tailor 19 

While  the  Emperor  Napoleon  was  retreating  from  Russia  he 
passed  through  a Jewish  village  as  he  fled  before  the  enemy. 
Seeing  that  all  avenues  of  escape  were  cut  off  he  dashed  into 
a house  in  which  lived  a Jewish  tailor. 

In  a tremulous  voice  he  pleaded  with  the  tailor,  “Hide  me 
quick!  If  the  Russians  find  me  they’ll  kill  me!” 

Although  the  little  tailor  had  no  idea  who  the  stranger  was 
he  was  moved  by  pity  for  a fellow-creature.  So  he  said  to  the 
Emperor,  “Get  under  the  featherbed  and  lie  still!” 

Napoleon  got  into  bed  and  the  tailor  piled  on  him  one 
featherbed,  and  another,  and  then  still  another. 



It  wasn’t  long  before  the  door  burst  open  and  two  Russian 
soldiers  with  spears  in  their  hands  rushed  in. 

“Is  there  anybody  hiding  here?”  they  asked. 

“Who  would  be  foolish  enough  to  hide  in  my  house?”  the 
tailor  answered. 

The  soldiers  pried  into  every  corner  but  found  no  one.  As 
they  were  leaving,  just  to  make  sure,  they  stuck  their  spears 
several  times  through  the  featherbeds. 

When  the  door  had  finally  closed  on  them  Napoleon 
crawled  out  from  under  the  pile  of  featherbeds.  He  looked 
deathly  pale  and  was  covered  with  perspiration.  Then  turning 
to  the  tailor  he  said,  “I  want  you  to  know,  my  dear  noble 
friend,  that  I am  the  Emperor  Napoleon.  Because  you  have 
saved  me  from  certain  death  you  can  ask  me  three  favors. 
No  matter  what  they  are  I will  grant  them  to  you.” 

The  little  tailor  thought  for  a while,  then  he  said,  “Your 
Majesty,  the  roof  of  my  house  has  been  leaking  for  the  past 
two  years  but  I’ve  never  had  any  money  to  fix  it.  Would  you 
be  so  kind  and  have  it  fixed  for  me?” 

“Blockhead!”  exclaimed  Napoleon  impatiently.  “Is  that  the 
greatest  favor  you  can  ask  of  an  Emperor?  But  never 
mind — I’ll  see  that  your  roof  is  fixed!  Now  you  can  make 
your  second  wish,  but  make  sure  this  time  that  it’s  something 

The  little  tailor  scratched  his  head.  He  was  really  per- 
plexed. What  on  earth  could  he  ask  for?  His  face  suddenly 

“Some  months  ago,  Your  Majesty,”  he  began,  “another  tai- 
lor opened  his  shop  across  the  way  and  he  is  ruining  my 
business!  Would  it  be  too  much  trouble  for  you  to  ask  him  to 
find  himself  another  location?” 

“What  a fool!”  cried  Napoleon  disdainfully.  “Very  well, 
my  friend — I’ll  ask  your  competitor  to  go  to  the  devil!  Now 
you  must  try  and  think  of  something  that’s  really  important. 
Keep  in  mind  though  that  this  is  positively  the  last  favor  I’ll 
grant  you!” 

The  tailor  knitted  his  brows  and  thought  and  thought.  Sud- 
denly an  impish  look  came  into  his  eyes. 

“Begging  your  pardon,  Emperor,”  he  asked  with  burning 
curiosity,  “but  I’d  very  much  like  to  know  how  you  felt  while 
the  Russian  soldiers  were  poking  their  spears  through  the 

“Imbecile!”  cried  Napoleon  beside  himself  with  rage.  “How 


traditional  types 

dare  you  put  such  a question  to  an  Emperor?  For  your  inso- 
lence I’ll  have  you  shot  at  dawn!” 

So  said,  so  done.  He  called  in  three  French  soldiers  who 
placed  the  little  tailor  in  irons  and  led  him  away  to  the 

That  night  the  tailor  could  not  sleep.  He  wept  and  quaked, 
quaked  and  wept.  Then  he  recited  the  prayer  of  confession 
and  made  his  peace  with  God. 

Promptly  at  dawn  he  was  taken  out  of  his  cell  and  tied  to 
a tree.  A firing  squad  drew  up  opposite  him  and  aimed  their 
muskets  at  him.  Near  by  stood  an  officer  with  watch  in  hand 
waiting  to  give  the  signal  to  fire.  He  lifted  his  hand  and  be- 
gan to  count:  One — two — thr — ” But  before  he  could  even 
complete  the  word,  the  Emperor’s  aide-de-camp  dashed  up  on 
horseback,  crying,  “Stop!  Don’t  shoot!” 

Then  he  went  up  to  the  tailor  and  said  to  him,  “His 
Majesty,  the  Emperor,  gives  you  his  gracious  pardon.  He  also 
has  asked  me  to  give  you  this  note.” 

The  tailor  heaved  a deep  sigh  and  began  to  read,  “You 
wanted  to  know,”  wrote  Napoleon,  “how  I felt  under  the 
featherbed  in  your  house.  Well,  now  you  know.” 

Scholars  and  Scripture  Teachers 

Etiquette  Among  Scholars 

A rich  man  once  invited  two  hungry  scholars  to  tea.  They 
came,  sat  down  at  the  table  and  began  to  discuss  Torah,  for 
what  other  pastime  do  Jews  have?  As  they  got  themselves 
well  tangled  up  in  Talmudical  argument,  the  hostess  entered 
and  placed  before  them  glasses  of  tea  with  lemon.  Then  she 
brought  m a platter  with  two  cookies.  It  so  happened  that  one 
cookie  was  somewhat  larger  than  the  other.  Understanding 
etiquette  very  well,  neither  of  the  two  scholars  wished  to  be 
the  first  to  reach  for  the  cookies. 

One  said  gallantly,  “You  first,  Reb  Yankel.” 

“No,  no!  Help  yourself  first,  Reb  Isaac!”  urged  Reb  Yankel 
with  equal  delicacy. 

Finally,  after  much  aimless  feinting,  Reb  Yankel  suddenly 
reached  out  and  took  a cookie — but  he  chose  the  larger  one. 
Reb  Isaac  looked  on  dumbfounded. 

How  is  it,  Reb  Yankel,”  he  chided  him  in  an  injured  tone 


the  human  comedy 

of  voice,  * that  a scholar  like  you  should  be  so  utterly  without 
table  manners?  How  could  anybody  be  so  rude  as  to  grab  for 
himself  the  bigger  portion  and  leave  the  smaller  one  to  an- 

“Nu,  and  what  would  you  have  done  in  my  place?”  asked 
Reb  Yankel. 

“What  do  you  mean  what  would  I have  done?  As  a man 
who  knows  etiquette  I most  certainly  would  have  taken  the 
smaller  cookie.” 

“Well,  that’s  what  you  got,”  answered  Reb  Yankel  sweetly. 
“So  what  are  you  getting  excited  about?” 

Goal  Achieved 

A certain  melamed  was  in  the  habit  of  snatching  a quiet 
drink  while  his  students  droned  on.  But  in  the  course  of  time 
this  became  known  and  he  lost  all  his  pupils. 

A friend,  moved  by  the  teacher’s  sad  situation,  tried  to  in- 
duce him  to  reform.  “Look,  Chatzkl,”  he  pleaded,  “if  only 
you’d  give  up  drinking,  you’d  have  all  your  pupils  back. 
Come  on,  try  and  give  it  up!” 

“You’re  a fool!”  the  melamed  replied.  “Here  for  years  I’ve 
been  teaching  so  I’d  be  able  to  drink  . . . and  you  suggest  I 
stop  drinking,  so  I’ll  be  able  to  teach!” 

Strictly  Kosher 

The  teacher  of  Scripture  in  a little  Polish  town  got  sick  and 
tired  of  his  drudgery  and  of  suffering  cold  and  hunger.  He 
decided  to  become  a robber. 

One  day,  he  took  a knife  from  the  kitchen  and  went  into 
the  woods.  Hiding  behind  a tree  he  lay  in  ambush  for  pass- 
ersby.  At  last  he  saw  a rich  lumber  dealer  in  the  town  trudg- 
ing along  unsuspectingly.  Without  a word,  he  threw  himself 
upon  him  and  raised  his  knife  as  if  to  stab  him.  Suddenly  he 
seemed  to  recall  something  and  let  the  knife  drop  to  the 

“It’s  your  luck,”  he  muttered.  “I  just  remembered  that  this 
is  a milchig  knife!” 


A poor  Talmud  student  was  making  the  rounds  from  one 
householder  to  another.  Each  one,  out  of  the  goodness  of  his 
heart  and  as  an  act  of  piety,  gave  him  food  and  lodging  for 

traditional  types 


withTll  frf'  In  °"e  0f  the/e  homes-  however,  he  was  treated 
T*  *n'8rtCe  and,  in  a Perfunctory  manner.  Three  times  daily 
they  gave  him  only  one  dish  to  eat — potatoes  y 

One  day,  when  he  saw  the  platter  of  potatoes  being  placed 
before  him,  he  shuddered  and  asked  his  host,  “Tell  me. 
ple“®> ’'hat  is  the  benediction  that  is  said  over  potatoes?” 

What  a question  to  ask!”  exclaimed  his  host.  “You’re  a 
Talmud  student,  aren’t  you?  Why,  even  the  most  ignorant 
man  knows  that  you  say:  ‘Blessed  are  the  fruits  of  the  earth  ’ 
over  everything  which  comes  out  of  the  soil.” 

That  may  be  so,”  retorted  the  Talmud  student,  “but  what 
should  I say  when  the  potatoes  are  coming  out  of  my  ears?” 

Merchants,  Shopkeepers,  Peddlers 

To  Save  Time 

On  the  express  train  to  Lublin,  a young  man  stopped  at  the 
seat  of  an  obviously  prosperous  merchant. 

“Can  you  tell  me  the  time?”  he  said. 

'Hie  merchant  looked  at  him  and  replied:  “Go  to  hell!” 

“What?  Why,  what’s  the  matter  with  you!  I ask  you  a civil 
question,  in  a properly  civil  way,  and  you  give  me  such  an 
outrageous,  rude  answer!  What’s  the  idea?” 

The  merchant  looked  at  him,  sighed  wearily,  and  said, 
Very  well.  Sit  down  and  I’ll  tell  you.  You  ask  me  a question 
I have  to  give  you  an  answer,  no?  You  start  a conversation 
with  me— about  the  weather,  politics,  business.  One  thing 
leads  to  another.  It  turns  out  you’re  a Jew — I’m  a Jew.  I live 
m Lublm— you’re  a stranger.  Out  of  hospitality,  I ask  you  to 
my  home  for  dinner.  You  meet  my  daughter.  She’s  a beauti- 
ful girl— you  re  a handsome  young  man.  So  you  go  out  to- 
gether a few  times— and  you  fall  in  love.  Finally  you  come  to 
ask  for  my  daughter’s  hand  in  marriage.  So  why  go  to  all  that 
trouble.  Let  me  tell  you  right  now,  young  man,  I won’t  let 
my  daughter  marry  anyone  who  doesn’t  even  own  a watch!” 

A Tradesman’s  Revenge 

Several  merchants  sat  at  a table  in  an  Odessa  restaurant  ab- 
sorbed m conversation  about  business  affairs.  Every  once  in  a 
while  a peddler  came  up  to  them  and  pestered  them  to  buv 
something  from  him.  7 


the  human  comedy 

I have  fine  handkerchiefs,  and  scarves  that  are  beauties, 
and  com  purses  that  are  A-l,”  he  called  out  in  a raucous  voice. 

patience  with  him,  one  of  the  merchants  said, 

™?‘,  ° y°u  say  to  this  pest!  I’d  like  to  play  a trick  on  him 
that  he  11  never  forget.” 

And  turning  to  the  peddler,  he  asked,  “Do  you  have  any 
suspenders,  uncle?  But  they  must  be  A-l.” 

‘‘mat  a question!”  cried  the  peddler  with  an  offended  air. 
Do  I have  A-l  suspenders!”  And  quickly  he  fished  out  a 

£°areSAPieAd-L”  ^ A‘U  bUt’  beHeVe  me’ 

“How  much?” 

“Two  rubles.” 

Without  a word  the  merchant  paid  the  two  rubles  and  the 
peddler  walked  away  with  a dazed  look  on  his  face. 

^as  J_he  idea?”  asked  a colleague  of  the  merchant 
who  had  bought  the  suspenders.  “Why  did  you  immediately 
pay  him  what  he  asked?”  3 

, r,,fear’  struck  home,”  replied  the  merchant  with 

glee.  He  11  eat  his  heart  out  now  because  he  didn’t  ask  for 
three  rubles. 

A Kindness 

f”Cr<?  Anu  WaS  notorious  not  paying  his  bills, 
his  good  friend  Abrams  was  astonished  one  day  to  find  him 
hagglmg  endlessly  over  a deal.  He  took  the  merchant  aside. 
Dook,  he  said,  “I  can’t  understand  you.  You  know  you 

brutally?”1  ^ ^ anyway>  so  why  do  y°u  bargain  so 

“Listen,”  said  the  merchant,  “he’s  a nice  guy,  and  I want 
to  keep  down  his  losses!” 

The  Rich  Uncle 

Once  there  was  a retired  New  York  merchant  who  owned  a 
rf®  summer  home  in  the  Catskill  Mountains.  He  had  a kind 
heart  and  because  of  that  his  summers  became  a nightmare 
ror  mm.  With  the  appearance  of  the  crocuses  and  with  the 

BroJncU-u  VeS  x°,f  the  robin  3,1  his  P00r  relations  from 
Brownsville,  East  New  York,  Midwood  and  West  Bronx  de- 
scended upon  him  in  the  country  in  force.  They  never  gave 

Thl0n%atS  Peace  °r  Privacy  until  the  leaves  began  to 
turn.  Then  they  returned  to  New  York. 



One  day,  as  he  sat  gloomily  regarding  a young  third 
cousin-in-law  upon  whom  a thousand  hints  had  been  wasted, 
he  sighed  and  said,  “There  is  little  likelihood,  is  there,  that 
you’ll  ever  come  on  another  visit  here?” 

“What  a thing  to  say!”  protested  the  young  man  with  heat. 
“Why,  you  are  the  prince  of  hosts!  Why  shouldn’t  I come 

“How  can  you  come  again  if  you  never  go  away?”  moaned 
his  host  plaintively. 

Production  Worries 

Friedman  the  clothier  was  distressed  at  the  haggardness  of 
his  partner  Weinberg,  who  suffered  from  insomnia.  “I’ll  bet 
you,”  he  said  to  him,  “you  never  tried  the  commonest 
remedy,  after  all  your  specialists.” 

“What’s  this  commonest  remedy?” 

“Counting  sheep.” 

“All  right,”  said  the  sick  man.  “What  can  I lose?  Tonight 
Til  give  it  a try.” 

But  next  morning  Weinberg  was  more  haggard  than  ever. 
“Did  you  do  like  you  said?”  Friedman  eagerly  asked. 

“Sure  I did,”  said  Weinberg  wearily.  “But  something  terri- 
ble happened.  “I  counted  sheep  up  to  50,000.  Then  I sheared 
the  sheep,  and  in  a little  while  I made  up  50,000  overcoats. 
Then  all  of  a sudden  a problem  came  up,  and  I was  tearing 
my  hair  all  night:  where  could  I get  50,000  liningsT 


An  old  Jewish  woman  on  Essex  Street  stuck  her  hand  into 
the  brine  of  a pickle  barrel  and  fished  out  a large  pickle. 

“How  much  is  this  pickle?”  she  asked. 

“A  nickel,”  answered  the  dealer. 

“A  nickel  is  too  much,”  she  said  and  put  the  pickle  back 
into  the  barrel. 

She  fished  in  the  barrel  again  and  came  up  with  a little 

“How  much  is  this  little  pickelehT’  she  asked  in  a tender 

“That  pickelehT  answered  the  shop-keeper,  just  as  tender- 
ly. “Only  a nickeleh!” 


Too  Late 


A junk  peddler  on  the  East  Side  died.  His  widow  collected 
two  thousand  dollars  insurance. 

“What  miserable  luck!”  she  complained.  “For  forty  years 
we  lived  in  poverty  and  now  that  God  has  made  us  rich,  Sol 
had  to  go  and  die!” 

Doctors  and  Patients 

A Calculation 

Two  Galicians  went  to  live  in  Vienna.  After  some  time  they 
met  on  the  street. 

“How  are  you  making  out  in  Vienna?”  one  asked  with  a sigh. 
“One  step  removed  from  the  grave,”  answered  the  other 
bitterly.  “How  about  you?” 

“Not  so  bad!  Why  should  I complain?  I’m  making  a living. 
After  all,  can  a Jew  ask  for  more?  But  I have  been  sick  of 
late.  Why,  do  you  know  that  in  the  last  three  months  I’ve 
spent  400  gulden  on  doctors  and  medicines!” 

“Ach!”  exclaimed  the  other  with  a homesick  sigh.  “Back  in 
Galicia  you  could  have  been  sick  on  that  money  for  at  least 
six  years.” 

One  of  the  Diseases  of  Mankind 

Dr.  Isaac  Hourwich,  the  noted  Yiddish  scholar,  had  a 
goatee  and  he  looked  exactly  like  Russian-Jewish  doctors  are 
expected  to  look. 

One  day,  an  old  Jewish  woman  came  to  see  him. 

“Doctor,”  she  complained,  “I  suffer  the  tortures  of  hell 
from  my  rheumatism.  Would  you  please — ” 

“I’m  sorry,”  Dr.  Hourwich  interrupted  her,  “but  you’ve 
made  a mistake,  my  dear  woman.  I’m  only  a Doctor  of  Phi- 

“Tell  me,  doctor,”  she  murmured,  “what  kind  of  sickness  is 

How  to  Collect  Dues 

In  the  great,  gay  days  of  Vienna  a certain  physician  deter- 
mined to  slough  off  his  Jewish  origin  in  an  effort  to  achieve 
the  maximum  social  distinction. 

Into  the  hospital  where  he  served  as  clinical  professor  of 



dermatology  there  came  one  day  a little  Jew,  bearded,  wear- 
ing a greenish  derby  hat,  a rusty  alpaca  coat,  and  carrying  a 
battered  briefcase.  “I  wish  to  see  Professor  Mannheimer,”  he 

“Impossible,”  said  the  attendant  curtly. 

“What  do  you  mean  ‘impossible’?  I’ll  wait,”  said  the  little 
man.  He  sat  down  on  a bench  in  the  reception  room,  and 
waited,  all  day  long.  For  several  days  thereafter  he  came  and 
waited  all  day. 

On  the  fifth  day,  a new  attendant  decided  to  help  the  little 
old  man.  “I’ll  give  you  a tip,”  he  said.  “Professor  Mann- 
heimer gives  a clinical  lecture  tomorrow,  and  he  uses  people 
as  examples  of  diseases  while  he  lectures.  The  only  chance  you 
have  of  ever  seeing  him  is  to  join  the  line  of  these  people. 
They  pass  through  that  corridor,  over  there,  exactly  at  three 
o’clock.  But  you’ve  got  to  undress.” 

“Nu,"  said  the  old  man,  “if  I have  to  undress,  I have  to 

So  the  next  day,  at  three,  the  old  man,  naked  except  for 
his  hat,  his  briefcase  still  clutched  in  one  hand,  brought  up 
the  end  of  the  line.  In  a moment,  with  the  half-dozen  other 
“specimens,”  he  found  himself  in  the  amphitheatre.  The  pro- 
fessor entered,  and  began  his  lecture. 

Pointing  with  a long  professorial  staff  at  the  first  of  the 
poor  souls,  he  said,  “Here,  gentlemen,  we  have  a perfect  case 
of  dermatitis.  . . .”  And,  after  a lengthy  description  of  the 
symptoms,  he  thanked  the  “specimen”  and  waved  his  pointer 
to  the  next  in  line. 

“This,”  he  declared,  “is  tertiary  syphilis  . . . note  this 
symptom  . . . note  that  . . And  again,  he  waved  to  the 
next  case. 

Finally  the  great  professor  stood  face  to  face  with  the  little 
old  man.  He  looked  the  “specimen”  over  from  head  to  foot, 
wiped  his  own  spectacles  and  then,  thoroughly  puzzled, 
asked,  “What’s  the  matter  with  yon?” 

“What’s  the  matter  with  me!”  echoed  the  little  man. 
“What’s  the  matter  with  you,  Professor  Mannheimer?  For 
four  years,  you  haven’t  paid  one  cent  of  your  dues  to  the 
Jewish  charities!” 


Old  man  Epstein  suffered  from  insomnia.  His  family  had 
tried  dozens  of  doctors,  and  scores  of  home  remedies,  to 
no  avail.  Finally  a great  specialist  was  recommended,  a 


the  human  comedy 

neurologist  reported  never  to  fail.  He  was  forthwith  sent  for. 
(<  Arriving  at  the  house,  the  great  doctor  said  to  the  son. 
You  wait  here,  while  your  father  and  I have  a few  moments 
*°8pther.”  And  the  doctor  entered  the  old  man’s  room. 

Its  all  very  simple,”  said  the  doctor  when  they  were 
alone.  “Just  follow  me.  Do  everything  I do.” 

And  the  great  neurologist  raised  both  arms  aloft.  So  did 
Epstein.  Then  he  lowered  his  arms  and  breathed  deeply.  Ep- 
stein followed  suit.  The  physician  raised  his  arms  sideways, 
did  three  quick  knee-bending  maneuvers,  put  his  hands  on  his 
hips,  and  then  executed  five  or  six  more  calisthenic  oper- 
ations. Epstein  followed  faithfully. 

Suddenly,  panting  a little  from  these  rigorous  exercises,  the 
doctor  fixed  little  Epstein  with  a commanding  eye,  and  de- 
clared soothingly,  “Now  . . . you  will  go  ...  to  sleep!”  He 
pointed  to  the  bed. 

The  doctor  then  strode  from  the  room,  and  summoned  the 
younger  man.  “You  may  go  in  to  your  father,  now,”  he  said. 
“You’ll  find  him  fast  asleep.” 

Happily,  the  son  tiptoed  to  his  father’s  bedside,  put  his  lips 
near  the  old  man’s  ear,  and  whispered,  “Papa,  it’s  me.  You’re 

Very  cautiously,  old  man  Epstein  opened  one  eye,  and 
asked,  “That  meshuggener  . . . he’s  still  here?” 

Waiters  and  Restaurants 

The  Customer  Is  Always  Right 

A customer  in  a Jewish  restaurant  in  New  York  gave  his  or- 
der to  the  waiter. 

“I  want  some  roast  duck." 

“I’m  sorry — we  have  no  roast  duck  today — only  roast 

“Ask  the  boss.” 

The  waiter  went  to  the  boss. 

“Mr.  Weintraub  wants  roast  duck.” 

“Tell  him  we  have  no  roast  duck  today — only  roast  goose.” 
“I  told  him  so,  but  he  insists  on  having  roast  duck.” 

Uie  boss  sighed  and  said,  “All  right,  if  Weintraub  insists,  he 
insists!  Ask  the  cook  to  cut  off  a portion  of  roast  duck  from 
the  roast  goose.” 

traditional  types 



The  restaurant  was  crowded.  Waiters  scurried  everywhere.  A 
line  of  standees  awaited  tables.  The  noise  was  overpowering. 

As  a waiter  whizzed  past  one  table,  a customer  looked  up 
and  asked,  “Waiter— what  time  is  it?” 

He  got  a quick  answer.  “I’m  not  your  waiter.” 

A Fishy  Conversation 

A customer  came  into  a restaurant  in  Kharkov,  ordered  a 
fish,  and  when  it  was  brought,  bent  over  the  fish  as  if  it  were 
a friend,  apparently  talking  to  it.  The  manager,  observing 
this,  came  over  to  the  table. 

“What,”  he  asked  the  diner,  “are  you  doing?” 

“Oh,  just  conversing  with  the  fish.” 

Conversing  with  this  fish?”  The  manager  was  astounded. 
‘ And  what  were  you  saying  to  it?” 

I asked  him  where  he  was  from.  And  he  said  the  Dnie- 

The  Dnieper,  eh?”  The  manager  determined  to  see  this 
through.  “Then  what  did  you  say?” 

“I  asked  what  was  new  on  the  Dnieper.” 

“And  he  answered?” 

He  was  terribly  sorry,  but  he’d  left  there  so  long  ago,  he 
wouldn’t  know.” 

Oysters  for  Atonement 

On  his  way  to  shut  on  Yom  Kippur,  the  Day  of  Atonement, 
holiest  of  fast  days,  a Jew  spied  his  partner  at  a table  in  the 
very  window  of  a seafood  restaurant.  Storming  into  the 
restaurant,  he  planted  himself  at  his  partner’s  elbow. 

How  can  you  do  such  a thing?”  he  bellowed.  “How  on 
this  day  of  all  days  can  you  sit  here  and  eat  oysters?” 

“What’s  the  matter?”  asked  the  culprit.  “There’s  no  ‘R’  in 
Yom  Kip  purl" 



Matchmaking,  practiced  among  many  peoples,  has  had  a vener- 
able history  among  Jews.  It  had  an  honorable  tradition  for  count- 
less generations,  and  served  a socially  useful  purpose  besides.  It 



received  serious  discussion  as  far  back  as  the  Talmudic  tractate. 
Baba  Kama.  But  then,  unlike  modern  times,  it  was  not  regarded  as 
a business  but  as  a pious  practice  to  be  carried  on  for  the  love  of 
God,  the  perpetuation  of  the  Jewish  family,  and  the  increase  of 
Israel.  As  a distinctive  calling,  matchmaking  was  already  in  exis- 
tence among  European  Jews  during  the  Twelfth  Century.  The 
shadchan  was  even  then  a clearly  recognizable  personage.  In  fact, 
he  was  an  important  Jewish  communal  functionary,  who  collected 
his  modest  fees  prescribed  by  rabbinical  decisions  and  by  the  le- 
gal statutes  of  the  realm. 

It  was  the  Crusades  which  spurred  the  growth  of  Jewish 
matchmaking  throughout  Europe.  Wholesale  massacres,  persecu- 
tions, and  the  constant  flights  of  Jews  hither  and  thither  before 
their  enemies,  made  normal  social  life  impossible.  In  such  circum- 
stances, the  shadchan  became  a pillar  of  national  survival,  an  im- 
portant instrumentality  for  the  preservation  of  the  Jewish  people. 

He  was  among  those  brave  souls  who  devoted  themselves  to 
the  vital  task  of  establishing  and  preserving  contact  among  the 
scattered  remnants  of  Israel.  It  was  a labor  of  devotion  on  his 
part,  involving  many  risks  to  life  and  limb  as  he  traveled  through 
hostile  territory  from  town  to  town  and  province  to  province. 

No  mere  hucksters  or  business  “agents”  were  permitted  by  the 
Jewish  communities  to  devote  themselves  to  the  “sacred”  union  of 
youth.  Only  high-minded  rabbis  and  scholars  were  chosen.  It  is 
interesting  to  note  that  such  celebrated  scholars  and  rabbis  as  Levi 
of  Mayence,  Jacob  Molir  and  Leona  da  Modena  were  shadcho- 
nim;  and  they  were  honored  for  this  work  by  their  communities. 

In  time,  with  the  growth  and  permanency  of  Jewish  settlements 
in  ghetto-towns,  the  traditional  integrity  of  the  shadchan  began  to 
waver.  By  the  time  of  the  Jewish  “Dark  Ages,”  which  began  at 
the  end  of  the  Sixteenth  Century,  there  were  already  mussar 
(moralistic)  writings  in  which  the  shadchan  was  roasted  over  the 
coals  for  his  venality  and  gross  misrepresentations.  With  pointed 
sarcasm  he  was  reminded  that,  in  olden  times,  only  selfish  schol- 
ars and  great  rabbis  were  privileged  to  practice  his  profession. 

One  of  the  principal  reasons  for  the  decline  in  the  moral 
stature  of  the  matchmakers  was  the  fact  that  usually  men  with 
unstable  backgrounds  and  occupations  were  tempted  into  its  un- 
certain undertakings.  The  peculiar  persuasive  and  social  talents 
required  drew  toward  it,  and  even  stimulated,  the  development  of 
a unique  type.  It  would  be  an  understatement  to  say  that  the  shad- 
chan became  the  Jewish  counterpart  of  Figaro.  Even  more  than 
he,  the  shadchan  was  a perpetual  chatterbox,  lively  and  impudent 
by  turn,  good-natured  with  raillery  and  guileless  with  malice. 

The  shadchan  is  a classic  type  in  the  great  portrait  gallery  of 
Jewish  folklore  and  in  the  works  of  fiction  writers  as  well.  He  is 
drawn  vividly  and  in  broad  satiric  lines,  dressed  up  in  all  the  fine 



plumage  of  his  humbug,  talkativeness,  and  genius  for  euphemisti- 
cally glossing  over  the  physical  and  character  defects  of  his 
clients.  Yet,  with  it  all,  he  is  touched  with  a certain  comic  pathos 
which  belongs  to  the  schlimazl,  a trait  Figaro  did  not  possess. 


The  Unreasonable  Young  Man 

An  old  marriage  broker  once  came  to  a young  man  propos- 
ing a match  with  an  ugly  girl.  The  young  man,  who  knew  the 
girl,  looked  at  the  broker  as  if  he  had  gone  out  of  his  mind. 

“What’s  the  idea  of  making  sport  of  me?”  he  asked  him  in- 

“You’re  wrong!”  the  broker  assured  him.  “You  know  I 
don’t  like  to  joke.  I mean  it  very  seriously.  What  are  your  ob- 
jections to  the  girl  anyway?” 

“Objections?  Why  she’s  blind!” 

“You  call  that  a fault?  In  my  opinion  it’s  a virtue.  You’ll 
be  free  to  do  whatever  you  please.” 

“But  she’s  also  a mute!” 

“For  a woman  that’s  a virtue.  You’ll  never  hear  a sour 
word  from  her.” 

“But  she’s  also  deaf!” 

“Can  you  think  of  anything  better?  You’ll  be  able  to  abuse 
her  to  your  heart’s  content  and  she  won’t  hear  you.” 

“But  she’s  also  lame!” 

“Call  that  a fault?  You’ll  be  able  to  run  after  other  women 
and  she  won’t  be  able  to  follow  you.” 

“But  she’s  also  hunchbacked!” 

“Really,  I cannot  understand  you!”  cried  the  marriage  bro- 
ker in  exasperation.  “Can’t  you  tolerate  even  one  fault  in  the 
girl  you  plan  to  marry?” 

Happiness,  Ready-to-Wear 
The  young  man  was  indignant. 

“What  sort  of  a match  are  you  proposing  to  me,  anyway?” 
he  rebuked  the  shadchan.  “Why,  this  woman  is  the  mother  of 
three  children!” 

“So  what  if  she  is?”  countered  the  shadchan.  “Believe  me, 
it’s  a lot  better  so.  Suppose  you  were  to  marry  a girl  and  you 
both  decided  to  have  children.  What  inconvenience  you’d 
have  to  go  through  to  have  three  children!  Three  pregnancies 
and  all  the  fuss  that  goes  with  them.  What  a waste  of  time, 



energy  and  expense,  of  doctors,  nurses,  hospitals  and  medi- 
cines! After  each  birth  your  wife  would  have  to  convalesce, 
no?  You  even  may  have  to  send  her  to  the  country  to  recu- 
perate. Since  you  work  in  town  you’ll  both  be  cruelly  sep- 
arated. What  sort  of  a dog’s  life  will  you  lead  then?  You’ll 
have  to  eat  in  rotten  restaurants  and  spoil  your  digestion. 
And  you  11  have  to  look  after  your  kids  while  your  wife  is 
away.  This  way,  if  you’ll  marry  the  widow  with  the  three 
children  I’m  proposing,  it’ll  be  a ready-made  job.  She’s  all 
through  with  the  bother.  Three  nice  children,  all  custom- 
made,  and  their  mother  is  in  the  pink  of  condition,  thank  youl 
My  friend,  if  you  don’t  grab  this  proposition  you’re  a fool!” 

The  Art  of  Exaggeration 

Once  there  was  a marriage  broker  who  felt  he  was  getting 
old  and  unable  to  get  around  any  more  as  much  as  he  used 
to.  He  therefore  hired  a young  assistant  who  knew  nothing 
about  the  business.  He  had  to  start  from  scratch  with  him. 

‘ Know,  young  man,”  said  the  marriage  broker,  “that  the 
most  important  thing  in  matchmaking  is  exaggeration  You 
must  lay  it  on  thick!” 

I fully  understand,”  answered  the  assistant  brightly. 

One  day  the  master  took  his  assistant  along  on  a match- 
making visit  to  a rich  man  who  had  an  only  son. 

Remember  what  I told  you!”  the  marriage  broker  warned 
his  assistant.  “Above  all  things,  be  enthusiastic  and  don’t  hesi- 
tate to  lay  it  on.” 

When  they  came  to  the  rich  man  the  broker  began: 

“I’ve  just  the  right  girl  for  your  son!  She  comes  of  a good 
family.”  6 

Good  family!”  exclaimed  his  assistant  rapturously.  “Why 
they’re  descendants  of  the  Vilna  Gaon!”  ’ 

^ And  they  are  rich  too,”  the  broker  went  on. 

“W^lat  do  y°u  mean  ‘rich’?”  interrupted  his  assistant. 
They’re  millionaires!” 

“As  for  the  girl,  she’s  as  pretty  as  a doll!”  gushed  the  bro- 

“A  doll!”  snorted  his  assistant  with  scorn.  “Why,  she’s  a 
raving  beauty!” 

At  this  the  broker  threw  a dubious  look  at  his  assistant. 

To  tell  the  truth,”  he  faltered,  “she  has  just  a trifling  little 
handicap — she  has  a tiny  wart  on  her  back.” 


“What  do  you  mean,  a tiny  wart!”  enthused  his  assistant. 
“Why,  she  has  a regular  hump!” 

The  Aristocrat 

Shortly  after  the  Bolshevik  Revolution,  a shadchan  called 
on  a lady  client  in  Minsk. 

“How  much  dowry  have  you?”  he  asked  delicately. 

“Two  thousand  rubles.” 

The  shadchan  then  took  out  his  little  black  book  and  said, 
“Well  now,  let  me  seel  H-mm.  For  two  thousand  rubles  I can 
give  you  a doctor.” 

“No,  I don’t  want  a doctor.” 

“Maybe  you’d  like  a rabbi?” 

“No,  no  rabbi.” 

“How  about  a cantor?” 

“No,  no  cantor.” 

‘Then  what  is  it  you  want?” 

“I  want  a worker.’” 

“A  worker?  You’re  a smart  one!  For  two  thousand  rubles 
you  think  you  can  get  a worker?” 

The  Over-Enthusiastic  Shadchan 20 

A shadchan  once  came  to  a young  man  and  said,  “Young 
man,  I have  a girl  for  you — pure  gold!” 

“Thank  you  very  much,”  answered  the  young  man  politely, 
“but  I don’t  want  to  get  married.” 

“Don’t  want  to  get  married!”  cried  the  shadchan  incredu- 
lously. “Who  ever  heard  of  such  a thing?  How  can  a Jew  live 
without  a wife?” 

“What  do  I need  a wife  for?”  retorted  the  young  man  irri- 

“Ai-ai!  That’s  bad!”  sighed  the  shadchan,  sadly  shaking  his 
head.  “You  talk  like  a child.  You  simply  have  no  idea  how 
good  it  is  to  have  a wife!  Without  one,  my  dear  friend,  you 
can’t  know  the  meaning  of  life.  Bachelors  are  always 
depressed;  they  feel  as  lonely  as  a stone  in  the  wilderness.  But 
with  a wife — and  believe  me  I know  what  I’m  talking  about 
for  I have  a wife  of  my  own  (may  God  keep  her  in  health 
and  vigor!) — with  a wife,  life  is  a joy  without  end. 

“Imagine  for  a moment — you  get  up  in  the  morning  and 
your  wife  places  before  you  a steaming  cup  of  coffee.  Then, 
while  you  are  away  for  morning  prayer  or  on  business  in  the 



market-place,  she  makes  ready  a delicious  breakfast — the 
same  as  my  wife  does  (may  God  preserve  her  to  one  hundred 
and  twenty  years!).  Later,  when  you  return,  you  eat  together, 
alone  and  at  the  same  table.  Everything  is  so  cosy,  so 
pleasant!  Just  think  of  it — you  eat  every  meal  the  same  way, 
three  times  a day,  seven  days  a week,  and  every  day  of  your 

“Then  on  Friday,  before  the  Holy  Sabbath  arrives,  she 
dusts  and  cleans  and  scours  until  everything  is  spick  and 
span.  She  polishes  the  large  silver  candlesticks  that  your 
mother-in-law  gave  you  for  a wedding  gift,  until  you  can  al- 
most see  your  face  in  them.  She  then  places  them  on  the 
table,  and,  saying  a prayer,  she  lights  the  candles,  as  a pious 
Jewish  daughter  should.  When  you  return  from  evening 
prayer  in  the  synagogue  you  chant  the  benediction  over  excel- 
lent wine  in  a silver  goblet.  And  think  of  it!  There,  opposite 
you,  sits  your  loving  wife  looking  up  at  you  smiling  with  her 
dear  eyes,  just  as  my  wife  (God  bless  her!)  does  on  such  oc- 

“After  supper,  you  both  sit  down  to  chat  comfortably.  You 
first  talk  of  this  and  of  that.  Then  your  wife  (what  a clever 
little  head  she  has  on  her  shoulders!)  begins  to  tell  you  one 
witty  story  after  another.  You  listen  as  she  prattles  so  sweetly, 
so  charmingly,  just  as  my  wife  does.  And  so  she  goes  on  talk- 
ing while  you  listen — and  she  talks  ...  and  she  talks  . . . 
and  talks  . . . and  talks  . . . Oy,  can  she  talk!  She’s  driving 
me  crazy  with  her  talk!” 

The  Truth  Will  Out 

A marriage  broker  had  taken  a young  man  on  a visit  to  a 
prospect.  As  they  left  the  house  the  broker  said  triumphantly, 

‘ Didn’t  I tell  you  what  a wonderful  family  they  were,  and 
how  rich?  Did  you  notice  the  quality  of  the  silverware  on  the 
table?  Pure  sterling!’’ 

"Y-e-s,"  grudgingly  conceded  the  young  man.  “But  don’t 
you  think  it’s  possible  that  in  order  to  make  a good  im- 
pression on  me  they  borrowed  the  silverware?” 

“Ach,  what  nonsense!”  cried  the  broker  with  exasperation. 
“Who’d  lend  any  silverware  to  those  thieves?” 



What  a Life ! 

“What  was  the  idea  of  fooling  me  that  way?”  a prospective 
bridegroom  bitterly  reproached  his  shadchan.- 

“What  do  you  mean,  I fooled  you?”  indignantly  replied  the 
broker.  “What  did  I say  that  wasn’t  so?  Isn’t  the  girl  a 
beauty?  Doesn’t  she  embroider  nicely?  Doesn’t  she  sing  like  a 

“Ye-es,”  grudgingly  conceded  the  groom.  “The  girl  is  all 
right,  as  far  as  that  goes.  But  she  comes  from  a terrible 
family!  That’s  where  you  lied  to  me:  you  told  me  her  father 
was  dead,  but  the  girl  herself  tells  me  he’s  been  in  jail  for  ten 

“Nu — I ask  you?  Do  you  call  that  living?”  asked  the  shad- 

Speak  Up 

“You  faker,  you  swindler!”  hissed  the  prospective  bride- 
groom, taking  the  shadchan  aside.  “Why  did  you  ever  get  me 
into  this?  The  girl’s  old,  she’s  homely,  she  lisps,  she  squints — ” 
“You  don’t  have  to  whisper,”  interrupted  the  shadchan, 
“she’s  deaf,  too!” 

Only  Sometimes 

The  boy  and  girl  went  for  a stroll.  The  boy  said  to  his  shad- 
chan when  next  they  met,  “But  she  limps!” 

“Only  when  she  walks,”  agreed  the  shadchan. 

In  Haste 21 

To  my  honored,  beloved  and  respected  friend,  Sholom 

I want  to  begin  by  informing  you  that  I am  still — Bless  the 
Lord — among  the  living,  and  that  I hope  to  hear  the  same 
from  you,  Amen.  Next  I want  to  tell  you  that,  with  God’s 
help,  I am  now  a king;  that  is,  I have  come  home  to 
Kasrilevka  to  spend  the  Passover  with  my  wife  and  children, 
my  father-in-law  and  mother-in-law,  and  with  all  my  loved 
ones.  And  at  Passover,  as  we  all  know,  a Jew  surrounded  by 
his  family  is  always  a king.  If  only  briefly,  I hasten  to  inform 
you  of  all  this,  my  dear,  true  friend.  For  a detailed  account 
there  is  no  time.  It  is  Passover  Eve,  and  on  this  day  we  must 
all  do  everything  in  great  haste,  standing  on  one  foot.  As  it  is 



written,  “For  in  haste  didst  thou  come  forth  out  of  the  Land 
of  Egypt.” 

But  what  to  write  of  first,  I hardly  know  myself.  It  seems 
to  me  that  before  anything  else  I ought  to  thank  you  and 
praise  you  for  the  good  advice  you  gave  me,  to  try  my  hand 
at  matchmaking.  Believe  me,  I shall  never,  never  forget  what 
you  have  done  for  me.  You  led  me  forth  from  the  Land  of 
Bondage,  from  the  Gehenna  of  Yehupetz;  you  freed  me  from 
the  desolate  occupation  of  a commission  salesman,  and  lifted 
me  to  a noble,  respected  profession.  And  for  this  I am  obli- 
gated to  praise  and  exalt  you,  to  bless  and  adorn  your  name, 
as  you  well  deserve. 

It  is  true  that  thus  far  I have  not  succeeded  in  negotiating 
a single  match,  but  I have  made  a beginning.  Things  are  stir- 
ring, and  once  things  begin  to  stir  there  is  always  the  possibil- 
ity and  the  hope  that  with  God’s  help  something  may  come 
of  it.  Especially  in  view  of  the  fact  that  I do  not  work  alone. 
I operate  in  partnership  with  other  matchmakers,  the  best 
matchmakers  in  the  world.  As  a result  of  these  connections  I 
now  have  a reputation  of  my  own.  Whenever  I come  and  in- 
troduce myself,  Menachem-Mendel  from  Yehupetz,  I am  in- 
vited to  sit  down,  I am  given  tea  with  preserves,  I am  treated 
like  an  honored  guest.  They  introduce  me  to  the  daughter  of 
the  house,  and  the  daughter  shows  me  what  she  can  do.  She 
turns  to  her  governess  and  begins  to  speak  French  with  her. 
Words  come  pouring  like  peas  out  of  a sack,  and  the  mother 
sits  gazing  at  her  daughter  proudly,  as  though  to  say,  “What 
do  you  think  of  her?  She  speaks  well,  doesn’t  she?” 

And  listening  to  these  girls,  I have  picked  up  some  French 
myself  and  I can  understand  quite  a bit  of  the  language.  For 
instance,  if  someone  says  to  me,  “Parlez-vous  Frangais?” 
(“How  are  you  feeling  these  days?”)  I say,  “Merci,  bonjour.” 
(“Not  bad,  praise  the  Lord.”) 

Then,  after  she  has  given  a demonstration  of  her  French, 
they  have  her  sit  down  at  the  pianola  to  play  something — 
overtures  and  adagios  and  finales — so  beautiful  that  it  pene- 
trates to  the  very  depth  of  one’s  soul!  In  the  meantime  the 
parents  ask  me  to  stay  for  supper  and  I let  them  talk  me  into 
it.  Why  not?  ...  At  the  table  they  serve  me  the  best  portions 
of  meat  and  feed  me  tzimmes  even  on  weekdays.  Afterwards, 
I strike  up  a conversation  with  the  daughter.  “What,”  I ask, 
“is  your  heart’s  desire — a lawyer,  an  engineer,  a doctor?” 
“Naturally,”  she  says,  “a  doctor.”  And  once  more  she  starts 



jabbering  in  French  with  the  governess,  and  at  this  point  the 
mother  has  an  opportunity  to  display  her  daughter’s  handi- 
work. “Her  embroidery  and  her  knitting  are  a feast  to  the 
eye,”  she  says,  “and  her  kindness,  her  goodness,  her  consider- 
ation for  others — there  is  no  one  like  her!  And  quiet — like  a 
dove.  And  bright — as  the  day  . . .” 

And  the  father,  in  his  turn,  traces  his  pedigree  for  me.  He 
tells  me  what  a fine  family  he  comes  from,  and  his  wife  as 
well.  He  tells  me  who  his  grandfather  was,  and  his  great- 
grandfather, and  all  his  wife’s  connections.  Every  one  of 
them  of  the  finest.  Rich  people,  millionaires,  famous  and 
celebrated  all  over  the  world.  “There  is  not  a single  common 
person  in  our  whole  family,”  he  assures  me.  “And  not  one 
pauper,”  his  wife  adds.  “Not  a single  workingman,”  he  says. 
“No  tailors  and  no  cobblers,”  she  adds.  “You’ll  find  no  fakes 
or  frauds  among  us,”  he  tells  me.  “Or  apostates  either,  I can 
assure  you,”  she  puts  in. 

In  the  doorway,  when  I’m  ready  to  leave  and  they  wish  me 
a good  journey,  I sigh  and  let  them  know  how  expensive  it  is 
to  travel  these  days.  Every  step  costs  money.  And  if  he  is  not 
obtuse  he  knows  what  I mean,  and  gives  me  at  least  enough 
for  expenses  . . . 

I tell  you,  my  dear  friend,  that  matchmaking  is  not  at  all 
such  a bad  profession — especially  if  God  ever  intercedes  and 
you  actually  conclude  a match!  So  far,  as  I have  told  you,  I 
have  not  succeeded  in  marrying  anyone  off.  I have  had  no 
luck.  At  the  start  everything  looks  auspicious.  It  could  hardly 
be  better.  It  was  a match  predestined  since  the  Six  Days  of 
Creation.  But  at  the  last  moment  everything  goes  wrong.  In 
this  case  the  youth  does  not  care  for  the  maiden;  in  the  other, 
the  girl  thinks  the  groom  is  too  old.  This  one  has  too  fine  a 
pedigree;  that  one  does  not  have  enough  money.  This  one 
wants  the  moon  on  a platter;  that  one  doesn’t  know  what  he 
wants.  There  is  plenty  of  trouble  connected  with  it,  and  heart- 
aches, and  indigestion,  I can  assure  you. 

Right  now  I am  on  the  verge  of  arranging  a couple  of 
matches — naturally  with  a few  partners — which,  if  the  Lord 
has  mercy  and  they  go  through,  will  be  something  for  the 
whole  world  to  talk  about.  Both  parties  come  from  the 
wealthiest  and  finest  and  oldest  families — there  is  none  like 
them.  And  the  girls  are  both  the  greatest  beauties.  You  can’t 
find  their  equal  anywhere.  Both  are  well-educated,  gifted, 
kind,  bright,  quiet,  modest — all  the  virtues  you  can  think  of. 



And  what  do  I have  to  offer  them?  Real  merchandise!  One 

a doctor  from  Odessa.  But  he  wants  no  less  than  thirty  thou- 
sand rubles  dowry,  and  he  has  a right  to  it,  because  according 
to  the  practice  that  he  says  he  has,  he  should  be  worth  much 
more.  I have  another  from  Byelotzerkiev — a rare  find!  A bar- 
gain at  twenty  thousand!  And  another  in  Yehupetz — only  he 
doesn’t  want  to  get  married.  And  a whole  flock  of  young 
little  doctors  who  are  only  too  anxious  to  get  married. 

Besides  these  I have  a pack  of  lawyers  and  attorneys  and 
justices  at  fifteen  thousand  and  ten  thousand,  and  smaller 
lawyers — young  ones  just  hatched — that  you  can  have  for  six 
thousand  or  five  thousand,  or  even  less.  On  top  of  that  I have 
a couple  of  engineers  who  are  already  earning  a living,  and  a 
few  engineers  still  looking  for  work.  And  that  is  not  all.  I 
have  an  assortment  of  miscellaneous  clients,  elderly  men,  rel- 
ics of  past  campaigns  from  Tetrevitz,  from  Makarevka,  from 
Yampola  and  from  Strishtch,  without  diplomas,  but  fine 
enough  specimens,  distinguished,  skilled,  intelligent.  In  short, 
there  are  plenty  to  pick  from.  The  only  trouble  is  that  if  the 
gentleman  wants  the  lady,  the  lady  does  not  want  the  gentle- 
man. If  the  girl  is  willing,  the  man  is  not.  Perhaps  then  you 
will  ask  why  the  man  who  does  not  want  girl  number  one 
will  not  take  number  two,  and  vice  versa?  I thought  of  that 
myself,  but  it  doesn’t  seem  to  work.  Do  you  know  why?  Be- 
cause strangers  are  always  mixing  in.  They  may  be  good 
people.  They  mean  no  harm.  But  they  spoil  everything.  And 
meanwhile  letters  are  flying  back  and  forth.  I send  telegrams 
and  receive  telegrams  every  day.  The  whole  world  rocks  and 

And  in  the  midst  of  it  all,  Passover  gets  in  the  way,  like  a 
bone  in  the  throat,  blocking  everything.  I think  it  over.  My 
fortune  won’t  run  away  from  me.  The  merchandise  I deal  in 
is  not  so  perishable.  Why  shouldn’t  I take  a few  days  off  and 
go  to  see  my  family  in  Kasrilevka?  It’s  been  so  long  since  I’ve 
been  there.  It  is  not  fair  to  my  wife  and  children  to  be  away 
from  them  so  long.  It  does  not  look  good  to  others,  and  it  is 
even  embarrassing  to  myself.  So,  to  make  it  short,  I have 
come  home  for  Passover,  and  that  is  where  I am  writing  you 
this  letter  from. 


Humorous  Anecdotes  and  Jests 

Ziisskind  the  Tailor 

The  Bishop  of  Salzburg  issued  a decree  that  on  a certain  day 
the  Jews  of  the  principality  were  to  present  their  champion  to 
hold  a dispute  with  a certain  Christian  scholar  who  was  a 
great  Bible  authority  and  theologian.  The  dispute  was  to  take 
place  in  the  Cathedral  Square  before  the  entire  populace. 
Whichever  of  the  two  opponents  was  bested  in  argument  was 
to  lose  his  life. 

A great  terror  fell  upon  the  Jews  when  they  heard  of  this. 
They  rent  their  garments  and  fasted.  The  Rabbinical  Council 
issued  a call  that  whoever  wished  to  engage  in  the  disputation 
with  the  Christian  scholar  should  report  to  the  Chief  Rabbi. 

But  only  Ziisskind  the  Tailor  showed  up. 

The  communal  leaders  were  filled  with  consternation.  Was 
this  the  man  to  represent  them  against  the  most  learned  priest 
in  the  land?  But  what  was  there  to  be  done?  No  one  else  had 
come  forward  for  everyone  knew  it  spelled  certain  death,  and 
here  was  the  town  tailor,  ready  to  sacrifice  his  life  for  the 
good  of  all  and  for  the  sanctification  of  His  Name! 

The  appointed  day  for  the  disputation  arrived.  The  popu- 
lace assembled  in  the  Cathedral  Square  according  to  the 
Bishop’s  decree.  The  Bishop  then  asked  the  Jewish  champion 
to  step  forward  and  begin  the  disputation. 

Said  Ziisskind  the  Tailor  to  the  Christian  scholar:  “If  you 
are  such  an  authority  on  Jewish  lore,  then  tell  me:  what  is 
the  meaning  of  the  Hebrew  words  Lo  Idatfl ”22 

“I  don’t  know,”  answered  the  scholar,  readily. 

“Aha!”  cried  the  tailor  exultantly.  “Let  me  put  the  question 
to  you  again:  What  does  Lo  Idati  mean?” 

“I  don’t  know!”  answered  the  scholar,  this  time  with  some 




When  the  Bishop  heard  the  scholar’s  apparent  admission  of 
ignorance  for  the  second  time  he  ordered  that  the  disputation 
be  halted.  They  then  quickly  hanged  the  scholar  and  die  Jews 
returned  home  with  songs  of  thanksgiving  on  their  lips.  They 
conducted  the  tailor  in  triumph  to  the  rabbi. 

“Tell  me,”  asked  the  rabbi,  “how  did  you  hit  upon  such  a 
clever  plan  to  best  the  scholar?” 

“I’ll  tell  you,  Rabbi,”  replied  the  tailor.  “I  looked  into  the 
Yiddish  translation  of  the  Torah  because  I do  not  know  any 
Hebrew,  and  it  said  about  Lo  Idati:  ‘I  don’t  know.’  So  I fig- 
ured— if  the  holy  Yiddish  Bible  translation  admits  ‘I  don’t 
know’  how  can  this  enemy  of  Israel  know!  And,  as  you  see,  I 
judged  right.” 

The  Power  of  a Lie 

In  the  town  of  Tamopol  lived  a man  by  the  name  of  Reb 
Feivel.  One  day,  as  he  sat  in  his  house  deeply  absorbed  in  his 
Talmud,  he  heard  a loud  noise  outside.  When  he  went  to  the 
window  he  saw  a lot  of  little  pranksters.  “Up  to  some  new 
piece  of  mischief,  no  doubt,”  he  thought. 

“Children,  run  quickly  to  the  synagogue,”  he  cried,  leaning 
out  and  improvising  the  first  story  that  occurred  to  him. 
“You’ll  see  there  a sea  monster,  and  what  a monster!  It’s  a 
creature  with  five  feet,  three  eyes,  and  a beard  like  that  of  a 
goat,  only  it’s  green!” 

And  sure  enough  the  children  scampered  off  and  Reb 
Feivel  returned  to  his  studies.  He  smiled  into  his  beard  as  he 
thought  of  the  trick  he  had  played  on  those  little  rascals. 

It  wasn’t  long  before  his  studies  were  interrupted  again, 
this  time  by  running  footsteps.  When  he  went  to  the  window 
he  saw  several  Jews  running. 

“Where  are  you  running?”  he  called  out. 

“To  the  synagogue!”  answered  the  Jews.  “Haven’t  you 
heard?  There’s  a sea  monster  there — a creature  with  five  legs, 
three  eyes,  and  a beard  like  that  of  a goat,  only  it’s  green!” 

Reb  Feivel  laughed  with  glee,  thinking  of  the  trick  he  had 
played,  and  sat  down  again  to  his  Talmud. 

But  no  sooner  had  he  begun  to  concentrate  when  suddenly 
he  heard  a dinning  tumult  outside.  And  what  did  he  see?  A 
great  crowd  of  men,  women  and  children,  all  running  toward 
the  synagogue. 

humorous  anecdotes  and  jests  301 

“What’s  up?”  he  cried,  sticking  his  head  out  of  the  win- 

“What  a question!  Why,  don’t  you  know?”  they  answered. 
“Right  in  front  of  the  synagogue  there’s  a sea  monster.  It’s  a 
creature  with  five  legs,  three  eyes,  and  a beard  like  that  of  a 
goat,  only  it’s  green!” 

And  as  the  crowd  hurried  by  Reb  Feivel  suddenly  noticed 
that  the  rabbi  himself  was  among  them. 

“Lord  of  the  world!”  he  exclaimed.  “If  the  rabbi  himself  is 
running  with  them  surely  there  must  be  something  happening. 
Where  there’s  smoke  there’s  fire!” 

Without  further  thought  Reb  Feivel  grabbed  his  hat,  left 
his  house,  and  also  began  running. 

“Who  can  tell?”  he  muttered  to  himself  as  he  ran,  all  out 
of  breath,  toward  the  synagogue. 

The  Merchant  from  Brisk 

A merchant  from  Brisk  ordered  a consignment  of  dry-goods 
from  Lodz.  A week  later  he  received  the  following  letter: 
“We  regret  we  cannot  fill  this  order  until  full  payment  has 
been  made  on  the  last  one.” 

The  merchant  sent  his  reply:  “Please  cancel  the  new  order. 
I cannot  wait  that  long.” 

The  Biggest  Favor 

One  day,  while  Hitler  was  horseback  riding  in  a Berlin  park, 
his  mount  became  frightened  and  ran  wild. 

“Help!  Help!”  cried  the  Fuehrer. 

A passerby  leaped  forward,  caught  the  reins  of  the  run- 
away horse,  and  brought  it  to  a standstill. 

“My  good  man,”  said  Hitler  gratefully.  “Do  you  know  who 
I am?  I am  your  Fuehrer!  And  who  are  you?” 

“I  am  Israel  Kohn,  a Jew,”  answered  his  rescuer,  all 

Hitler  looked  startled  for  a moment.  Then  he  said,  “You 
may  be  a Jew  but  you’re  a brave  man!  You’ve  saved  my  life 
and  I want  to  reward  you!  Just  tell  me  what  favor  you’d  like 
me  to  do  for  you.” 

“Favor!”  muttered  Israel  Kohn,  despondently.  “The  biggest 
favor  you  can  do  for  me  is  not  to  breathe  a word  about  this 
to  a soul!” 

the  human  comedy 


Secret  Strategy 

During  the  first  World  War  a Jewish  soldier  greatly  distin- 
guished himself  by  the  large  number  of  prisoners  he  took. 
Late  at  night,  when  all  firing  had  ceased  and  everything  was 
still,  he  would  cautiously  crawl  over  the  top  into  No  Man’s 
Land.  Before  long  he  would  return  followed  by  a number  of 
prisoners.  He  did  this  with  baffling  regularity  all  night  long 
until  dawn  broke.  No  one  could  understand  how  he  managed 
it,  and  he  wouldn’t  divulge  his  secret  even  to  his  superior  of- 

When  the  General  of  his  division  heard  of  it  he  ordered 
him  up  for  questioning. 

“My  boy,”  he  said  sternly,  “out  with  your  secret!  If  you 
can  take  prisoners  that  easily  it’s  your  duty  to  tell  us  how  so 
we  can  teach  others.” 

“General,”  the  young  soldier  confessed,  embarrassed,  “my 
method  is  not  according  to  the  Army  Manual.  I do  simply 
this.  Late  at  night  I crawl  to  the  nearest  enemy  trench.  Then 
I call  out  in  Yiddish:  ‘Jews,  wherever  you  are!  We  need  a 
minyan  of  ten  men  for  reciting  the  Kaddish  prayer  over  a 
dead  comrade.’  Immediately,  Jews  come  piling  over  the  top 
from  the  German  trenches  and  I lead  them  back  to  camp.” 

Mother-in-Law  Relativity 

“Hello,  Mrs.  Levine!  How  are  you?” 

“Fine  and  dandy!” 

“And  how’s  your  daughter  Shirley?” 

God  bless  her,  she’s  fine!  What  a wonderful  husband  she 
has!  He  doesn’t  let  her  put  her  hand  in  cold  water  all  day 
long!  She  lies  in  bed  until  twelve  and  then  her  maid  serves 
her  breakfast  in  bed.  At  three  she  goes  shopping  in  Saks  Fifth 
Avenue  and  at  five  she  has  cocktails  at  the  Ritz.  And  dresses 
just  like  a movie  star!  What  do  you  say  to  such  mazelT' 

And  how’s  your  son?  I hear  he’s  married.” 

. “Yes>  he’s  married!  Poor  boy— he  has  no  mazel.  He’s  mar- 
ried to  one  of  those  fancy-shmancy  girls.  What  do  you  think 
she  does  all  day  long?  She  doesn’t  do  a thing!  The  good-for- 
nothing!  She  sleeps  until  noon.  Then  she  has  to  have  her 
breakfast  brought  to  her  in  bed.  And  do  you  think  she  takes 
care  of  her  home?  No!  She  has  to  shop  all  afternoon  and 
waste  her  husband’s  hard-earned  money  on  dresses  like  a 



movie  star.  How  do  you  think  she  winds  up  the  day?  Guz- 
zling cocktails!  Call  that  a wife?” 

All  Agents  Are  Alike 

Once  there  was  an  old  couple.  They  did  poorly,  and  even 
suffered  hunger.  At  last,  driven  by  desperation,  the  old  man 
said  to  his  wife,  “Malke,  let’s  write  God  a letter.” 

So  they  sat  down  and  wrote  God  a letter,  imploring  Him 
for  help.  They  signed  it,  sealed  it  carefully,  and  wrote  the 
name  of  God  on  the  envelope. 

“How  do  you  suppose  we  can  mail  this  letter?”  the  old 
woman  asked  in  perplexity. 

“God  is  everywhere,”  her  pious  husband  replied.  “Our  let- 
ter is  bound  to  reach  Him  any  way  we  send  it.” 

So  he  went  outside  and  threw  it  into  the  wind  which 
whirled  it  away  down  the  street. 

It  happened  that  at  that  very  moment  a charitable  rich 
man  was  out  walking  and  the  wind  blew  the  letter  towards 
him.  He  picked  it  up  out  of  curiosity,  read  it,  and  was 
touched  by  the  trusting  innocence  of  the  old  couple  as  much 
as  by  their  sad  plight.  He  resolved  to  help  them. 

A little  later  he  knocked  on  their  door. 

“Does  Reb  Nute  live  here?”  he  asked. 

“I  am  Reb  Nute,”  replied  the  old  man. 

The  rich  man  beamed  at  him. 

“In  that  case.  I’ve  some  business  to  transact  with  you,”  he 
said.  “I  want  you  to  know  that  God  received  your  letter  a 
few  minutes  ago.  As  I am  His  personal  agent  in  White  Russia 
He  gave  me  a hundred  rubles  for  you.” 

“What  do  you  say  to  that,  Malke?”  exclaimed  the  old  man 
with  joy.  “You  see,  God  did  get  our  letter!” 

The  old  couple  took  the  money  and  showered  their 
blessings  on  God’s  agent  in  White  Russia. 

When  they  were  alone  again  the  old  man’s  face  became 

“What’s  wrong  now?”  his  wife  asked  him. 

“I’ve  a suspicion,  Malke,”  answered  the  old  man  thought- 
fully, “that  that  agent  wasn’t  altogether  honest;  he  was  a little 
too  smooth.  Well,  you  know  how  agents  are!  Likely  as  not 
God  probably  gave  him  two  hundred  rubles  for  us  but  that 
swindler  must  have  taken  off  fifty  percent  as  his  commis- 



All  About  the  Elephant 

A professor  of  zoology  at  Harvard  some  years  ago  asked  his 
graduate  students,  among  whom  were  several  foreigners,  to 
write  papers  on  the  elephant. 

A German  student  wrote:  “An  Introduction  to  the  Bibliog- 
raphy for  the  Study  of  the  Elephant.” 

A French  student  wrote:  “The  Love-Life  of  the  Elephant.” 
An  English  student  wrote:  “Elephant  Hunting.” 

An  American  student  wrote:  “Breeding  Bigger  and  Better 

..'rJb'L1',6  was  also  a Jewish  student  in  the  class.  He  wrote: 
I he  Elephant  and  the  Jewish  Problem.” 

Babe  Ruth  and  the  Jewish  Question 

A little  Jewish  boy  on  the  East  Side  of  New  York  came 
home  from  school  and  with  great  excitement  told  his  patri- 
archal grandfather:  “Grandpa!  Imagine!  Babe  Ruth  hit  three 
homers  today!” 

“Tell  me,”  asked  the  old  man,  “what  this  Babe  Ruth  did— 
is  it  good  for  the  Jews?” 

The  Captain 

H a!ways  kee.n  a simple  and  unassuming  man  until  he 
suddenly  became  rich.  Looking  around  he  noticed  that  the 
very  rich  owned  yachts.  Clearly,  to  own  a yacht  was  a badge 
of  wealth.  So  why  shouldn’t  he  own  a yacht  too?  He  there- 
fore bought  himself  one  and  appropriately  rigged  himself  out 
in  a fancy  “captain’s”  uniform. 

For  the  first  trip  he  invited  his  old  father  and  mother  from 
the  Bronx.  They  seemed  impressed  but  slightly  dubious  of  his 
new  glory. 

“What  do  you  say  to  me  now,  mama?”  cried  her  son 
now!”Iy’  P°inting  t0  his  new  uniform-  “I’m  a regular  captain 

His  old  mother  smiled  indulgently  and  murmured  “That’s 
fine,  that’s  fine!” 

“But  mama,”  protested  her  son,  looking  a little  hurt,  “you 
don’t  seem  very  enthusiastic  about  it.” 

“Listen,  Benny  dear,”  replied  his  mother,  “by  papa  you’re 
a captain,  by  me  you’re  a captain,  by  you  you’re  a captain — 
but,  believe  me,  by  a captain  you’re  no  captain!” 



Ready  for  Everything 

A Talmud  student  was  sleeping  in  a strange  house.  At  night 
he  was  awakened  by  a noise,  so  he  cried  out:  “Scat!  Scat! 
Gewaltl  Gewaltl  Shema  Yisroel!  Shema  Yisroell" 

“What’s  the  meaning  of  your  gibberish?”  his  host  called 
out  to  him  in  surprise. 

“Very  simple,”  explained  the  Talmud  student.  “I  wish  to 
cover  all  eventualities.  If  it  was  a cat — ‘scat!  scat!’  would 
drive  it  away.  If  it  was  a thief — ‘gewalt!  gewaltl’  would 
frighten  him  off.  It  if  was  a ghost — then  ‘Shema  Yisroell’ 
would  protect  me.” 

Also  a Minyan-Man 

“What  is  your  business?”  asked  the  judge  of  the  witness,  a 
little  bearded  old  Jew. 

“I’m  a minyan-man.” 

“What’s  that?”  asked  the  judge. 

“When  there  are  nine  persons  in  the  synagogue  and  I join 
them  they  are  ten,”  answered  the  old  man. 

“What  kind  of  talk  is  that?”  snapped  the  judge,  impa- 
tiently. “When  there  are  nine  persons,  and  I join  them,  there 
are  also  ten.” 

A look  of  delight  appeared  on  the  old  Jew’s  face.  Bending 
over  towards  the  judge  he  asked  in  a confidential  whisper, 
“Also  a Jew?” 

When  Your  Life  Is  in  Danger 

A Jewish  merchant  once  came  on  matters  of  business  to  the 
estate  of  a Polish  landowner  in  the  country.  He  found  the 
landowner  at  breakfast.  On  the  table  were  hot  cutlets  and  a 
bottle  of  wine.  The  host  politely  asked  the  merchant  to  take  a 
seat  at  the  table  and  urged  him  to  eat  a pork  chop.  The  Jew 
thanked  him  but  declined. 

“Don’t  you  like  pork  chops?” 

“On  the  contrary,  I would  like  them  very  much  but  they’re 
forbidden  to  us  Jews.” 

The  landowner  laughed.  “I  know,  I know,”  said  he,  “you 
call  them  tref.” 

After  that  he  poured  him  a glass  of  wine.  Again  the  Jew 
declined  with  thanks.  That,  too,  was  forbidden. 

Out  of  patience,  the  landowner  exclaimed,  “Your  God  cer- 



tainly  is  a hard-hearted  one!  He  puts  upon  your  shoulders  a 
burden  too  heavy  to  carry.  Tell  me  what,  for  instance,  would 
you  do  if  you  got  lost  in  a forest,  had  nothing  to  eat  for 
several  days,  and  began  to  feel  that  you  were  about  to  col- 
lapse from  hunger?  Suppose  somebody  came  along  and 
handed  you  food  that  was  tref — would  you  eat  it?” 

“That’s  entirely  another  matter,”  answered  the  Jew.  “Our 
Law  makes  provision  for  emergencies  where  human  life  and 
health  are  at  stake.” 

Suddenly,  the  landowner  jumped  to  his  feet.  He  glared 
murderously  at  the  Jew  and,  whipping  out  a revolver,  pointed 
it  at  him,  crying,  “Drink  this  wine,  or  I shoot!” 

Before  you  could  say  Bim  the  Jew  had  downed  the  wine  in 
one  gulp.  Still  pointing  the  revolver  at  him,  the  landowner 
poured  him  a second  glass.  Before  you  could  say  Bam  the 
Jew  had  gulped  it  down. 

Putting  down  the  revolver,  the  landowner  said  smiling  to 
the  Jew,  “Don’t  be  angry  with  me,  I beg  you,  I was  only  jok- 
ing. Assure  me  you’re  not  angry.” 

“Why  shouldn’t  I be  angry— I have  every  right  to  be  an- 
gry, ’ retorted  the  Jew.  “You  should  have  started  your  joke  a 
little  earlier,  when  you  first  got  around  to  the  pork  chops!” 

They  Misled  the  Gendarme 

When  the  Czar  had  issued  the  infamous  May  Laws  against 
the  Jews  in  1881,  three  Jews  in  a little  Ukrainian  town  gave 
vent  to  their  indignation. 

“He  is  an  idot,  a nitwit!”  jeered  one. 

“He  guzzles  vodka  like  a swine!”  sneered  another. 

“Not  only  that,  but  he’s  a thief!  He  collects  taxes  and  puts 
them  in  his  own  pocket!”  raged  the  third. 

No  sooner  had  he  said  this  than  a gendarme  appeared  as 
though  he  had  sprung  out  of  the  ground. 

“Seditious  Jews!”  he  roared  angrily.  “Just  wait — you’ll  pay 
dearly  for  insulting  our  Holy  Czar!  Come  with  me — you’re 
under  arrest!” 

So  the  three  Jews,  trembling  with  fear,  went  with  the  gen- 
darme to  the  police  station. 

“How  dare  you  insult  our  beloved  Czar?”  shrieked  the 
commissioner  of  police. 

“Who  was  talking  about  the  Czar?”  replied  the  Jews  inno- 
cently. “We  were  talking  about  Kaiser  Wilhelm,  that  enemy 
of  Israel!” 



The  police  commissioner  softened. 

“Oh,  in  that  case — be  more  careful  the  way  you  talk  next 
time.  How  was  the  gendarme  to  know?  When  you  said  ‘idiot 
. . . drunkard  . . . thief’  ...  he  naturally  thought  you 
meant  the  Czar.” 

Very  Understandable 

A preacher  once  came  to  a village  and  held  forth  in  the 
synagogue  on  the  Sabbath  afternoon.  A great  crowd  turned 
out  to  hear  him.  In  the  village  lived  a man  who  was  a bit  of 
a scholar.  Seeing  that  everybody  was  going  to  hear  the 
preacher,  he  went  too. 

The  following  morning  the  preacher  met  this  man  on  the 

“How  did  you  like  my  sermon?”  he  asked  him. 

“All  I can  tell  you  is  that  I could  not  fall  asleep  after  I 
heard  you  preach.” 

“Did  my  preaching  have  such  an  effect  on  you?” 

“Not  at  all,  only  when  I sleep  during  the  day  I can’t  close 
an  eye  at  night!” 


Two  old  men  sat  silently  over  their  glasses  of  tea  for  what 
might  have  been,  or  at  any  rate  seemed,  hours.  At  last,  one 
spoke:  “Oy,  veh!” 

The  other  said:  “You’re  telling  me!” 


“What’s  news,  Mr.  Goldstein?  What  does  your  son  write 
from  Detroit?” 

“Ail  Thank  you  for  asking.  Believe  me — it’s  bitter.  His 
wife  died  recently.  She  was  nebich  a young  woman,  a mother 
of  three  children,  the  prettiest  little  doves  you’ve  ever  seen! 
But  now,  blessed  be  His  name,  he  has  only  two  left — the 
third  fell  sick  and  died.  And  his  business  is  going  to  the  devil! 
He  had  a house,  but  it  burned  down.  Burglars  looted  his  little 
shop  so  that  nothing  remains  of  any  value.  In  one  word — he 
has  been  left  nebich  without  a shirt  on  his  back.  It’s  a bitter 
misfortune!  But  let  me  tell  you — does  he  write  a letter  in  He- 
brew! Ai!  It’s  a pleasure  to  read — I’m  telling  you!” 



Cold  Hospitality 

A rich  man  was  annoyed  because  every  time  he  sat  down  to 
dinner  the  door  opened  and  in  came  a certain  schnorrer. 
What  was  the  rich  man  to  do?  He  had  to  invite  him  to  din- 

One  night  at  the  usual  dinner  hour  when  his  steady  cus- 
tomer called  again,  the  rich  man  suddenly  asked  him,  “Do 
you  like  cold  noodles?” 

“Oh,  I love  cold  noodles!”  replied  the  schnorrer , enthusias- 

“Fine!”  snapped  the  host.  “Come  back  tomorrow  night  for 
them.  They’re  hot  just  now.” 

Conversation  Piece 

“How  are  you?” 


“I  mean,  how  is  business?” 


“And  how’s  your  wife?” 


“And  your  children?” 


“Well,  good-bye!  It  certainly  was  good  to  see  you.  Believe 
me — there’s  nothing  like  a good  heart-to-heart  talk  with  a 
friend  to  get  your  troubles  off  your  chest!” 

Stop  Me  If . . . 

An  old  Jew,  seated  at  the  end  of  a sparsely  filled  subway  car, 
was  making  strange  and  elaborate  gestures  and  grimaces,  in- 
terspersed with  laughter  and  deprecatory  hand  wavings. 

A fellow  passenger,  overcome  with  curiosity,  approached 
the  old  man,  asking,  “Is  something  wrong?  Is  there  anything  I 
can  do?” 

“No,  no!”  said  the  gesturer,  “thank  God,  I’m  all  right.  But 
when  I travel  I have  the  habit  of  passing  the  time  telling  my- 
self stories.” 

“Well,”  said  the  other,  “why  do  you  make  such  faces  and 
gestures,  as  if  you  were  in  pain?” 

Oh,  that!  ’ said  the  old  man.  “Every  time  I start  a new 
story  I have  to  tell  myself  that  I’ve  heard  it  before.” 



A Livelihood 

Levine  bought  a diamond  and  emerald  ring  for  his  wife.  At 
lunch  he  showed  it  to  his  friend,  Siegel. 

“What  did  you  pay  for  it?”  asked  Siegel. 

“Five  hundred  dollars.” 

“I  like  it,”  said  Siegel.  “I’ll  give  you  seven  hundred,  that’s 
$200  profit  for  you.” 

So  it  was  done.  But  the  next  day  Levine  regretted  it.  His 
wife  would  have  liked  it.  He  went  to  Siegel  and  offered  to 
buy  it  back  for  $800. 

Siegel  sold.  After  all,  it  was  a quick  $100  profit.  But  he 
had  become  attached  to  the  ring  and  phoned  Levine,  later, 
saying,  “Look,  if  you’ll  sell  it  back  to  me  I’ll  give  you  a thou- 
sand for  it.”  So  it  was  again  Siegel’s.  And  Levine  joyously 
pocketed  the  extra  $200. 

Before  Siegel  could  present  it  to  his  own  wife,  his  partner, 
Berman,  saw  it  and  offered  $1500.  The  ring  changed  hands. 

The  next  day,  Levine  again  sought  the  ring,  offering  Siegel 


“I’ve  sold  it  to  Berman  for  $1500,”  Siegel  explained. 

“You  idiot,”  cried  Levine.  “How  could  you  do  such  a 
thing!  From  that  ring  we  were  both  making  such  a nice  liv- 

A Full  Accounting 

When  Mr.  Berg  came  home  his  wife  accosted  him.  “Sam, 
give  me  five  dollars.” 

“What  happened  to  the  five  dollars  I gave  you  this  morn- 

“Do  you  want  me  to  give  you  an  accounting?” 

“Yes,”  said  Mr.  Berg. 

. . “All  right,”  said  his  wife.  “A  dollar  here  and  a dollar  there 
is  two  dollars.” 


“And  before  you  turn  around  is  another  two  dollars.” 


“And  the  last  dollar — I won’t  tell  you!” 

Mother  Love 

A mother  tenderly  guided  her  four-year-old  Sarale  down 
Second  Avenue.  As  they  crossed  14th  Street,  the  child 



“God  bless  you,  my  sweet!”  breathed  Mama,  patting  the 
child’s  head. 

As  they  crossed  1 3th  Street,  the  child  sneezed  again. 

“Ah,  may  your  health  be  a thing  of  wonder,  my  jewel,” 
Mama  sweetly  sighed. 

At  12th  Street,  the  child  sneezed  again  and  once  more 
Mama  patted  her  head  and  uttered  a fervent  “Gesundheit!” 

At  11th  Street,  little  Sarale  sneezed  again,  and  received  a 
smart  slap  in  the  face.  “Go  to  the  devil!”  cried  Mama. 
“You’re  catching  another  cold!” 


A Jew  was  engaged  once  to  drive  a bus  on  a lower  East  Side 
line  in  New  York.  As  he  handed  in  his  receipts  at  the  end  of 
the  first  day  he  looked  plainly  discouraged.  They  amounted  to 
less  than  ten  dollars. 

The  following  day  he  started  out  on  his  route  early  in  the 
morning  but  somehow  he  eluded  the  inspectors.  Very  much 
puzzled  they  tried  to  find  out  what  had  become  of  him  and 
his  bus. 

Finally,  toward  nightfall,  the  new  bus  driver  appeared  at 
the  terminal  grinning  happily.  With  a flourish  he  handed  the 
cashier  one  hundred  and  nine  dollars. 

“What’s  this?  What’s  this?”  the  cashier  exclaimed  in  amaze- 
ment. “We  never  had  so  much  money  made  on  that  run  be- 
fore. How  did  you  do  it?” 

“Very  simple,”  answered  the  driver.  “I  said  to  myself: 
‘What’s  the  use  of  wasting  my  time  on  this  God-forsaken 
route  where  there  are  hardly  any  passengers?’  I’m  not  such  a 
fool!  I turned  my  bus  into  14th  Street  and,  believe  me,  it’s  a 
gold  mine  over  there!” 

No  Admittance 

One  of  the  synagogue’s  chief  means  of  obtaining  revenue  is 
the  sale  of  seats  for  the  high  Holy  Days.  This  is  always  done 
in  advance  since  the  carrying  and  handling  of  money  on 
these  days  is  forbidden  to  orthodox  Jews.  For  the  same  rea- 
son, it  is  customary  to  employ  non-Jews  as  keepers  of  the 

One  Yom  Kippur,  a ticket-taker  at  a Brooklyn  house  nf 
worship  was  confronted  by  a Jew  with  no  ticket  who  pleaded 
to  be  allowed  to  enter. 



“No  ticket,  no  admission,”  the  guard  said,  firmly. 

“But  I’ve  got  to  see  my  partner,  Liebowitz,  in  the  fourth 
row,”  insisted  the  man.  “It’s  urgent.” 

“For  the  last  time,”  said  the  guard,  Tm  telling  you,  no 
ticket,  no  admission  to  this  synagogue!” 

“But  it’s  a business  matter,”  persisted  the  man.  “I’ll  just  be 
a minute.  I swear  to  you . . . just  a minute.” 

“Well,  if  it’s  a business  matter,”  said  the  guard,  finally 
weakening,  “I’ll  let  you  in  for  a minute.  . . . But  remem- 
ber— no  praying!” 

Whose  Drawers? 

During  his  first  visit  to  America,  Israel  Zangwill,  the  noted 
Anglo-Jewish  writer,  was  the  guest  of  Jacob  Schiff,  the 
banker-philanthropist.  To  his  dismay,  Zangwill  found  the 
weather  in  New  York  too  balmy  for  his  heavy  English 
woolies.  Schiff,  a conservative  banker  of  the  old  school, 
promptly  lent  him  a pair  of  his  own  jean  underdrawers,  the 
kind  with  tapes  around  the  ankles. 

Blithely  Zangwill  strolled  down  Fifth  Avenue,  basking  in 
the  fine  afternoon  sunshine,  completely  unaware  that  the 
tapes  on  his  underwear  had  gotten  loose  and  were  trailing  on 
the  ground. 

As  he  passed  a corner  a policeman  called  out  to  him, 
“Hey,  Mister,  the  strings  of  your  drawers  are  hanging  out!” 

For  a moment  Zangwill  was  taken  aback. 

“You’re  mistaken,”  he  finally  replied,  recovering  from  his 
embarrassment,  “they’re  not  my  drawers,  they’re  Mr.  Jacob 
SchifFs  drawers.” 


Feld  and  Bein  met  on  the  street.  "Sholom  aleichem,”  said 
Feld,  politely.  “Go  to  hell,”  said  Bein. 

“Look,”  Feld  said  indignantly,  “I  speak  nicely  to  you  and 
you  tell  me  to  go  to  hell.  What’s  the  idea?” 

“I’ll  tell  you,”  said  Bein.  “If  I answered  you  politely  you 
would  ask  where  am  I going,  and  I would  tell  you  I’m  going 
to  the  8th  Street  baths. 

“You  would  tell  me  I’m  crazy,  the  Avenue  A baths  are 
better,  and  I would  say  you’re  crazy,  the  8th  Street  baths  are 
better,  and  you  would  call  me  a damn  fool  and  I would  tell 
you  to  go  to  hell. 


“This  way  it’s  simpler.  I tell  you  right  away  go  to  hell,  and 
it’s  finished.” 

A Matter  of  Degree 

As  they  were  driving  by  Calvary  Cemetery,  Goldman  sud- 
denly turned  to  Meyerson,  saying,  “If  you  don’t  mind,  I 
want  to  stop  here  so  I can  visit  a grave.” 

“But  it’s  a goyish  cemetery!”  Meyerson  said,  surprised. 

“Just  the  same,”  said  Goldman,  “I  want  to  go  in.” 

So  they  went  in  and  walked  until  they  arrived  at  a family 
plot  marked  “Reilly.”  At  its  entrance  was  a block  of  granite 
bearing  the  names: 

James  Joseph  Reilly 
Francis  Xavier  Reilly 
John  James  Reilly 
Mary  Martha  Reilly 
William  John  Reilly 
Rebeccah  Reilly 

Pointing  to  the  last  name,  Goldman  said,  “This  was  my 

“Your  daughter?”  exclaimed  Meyerson  dismayed.  “She 
might  as  well  be  dead!” 


Rabbinical  Limits 

The  saintly  rabbi  was  deep  in  his  devotions,  praying  with  his 
face  turned  to  the  wall.  Suddenly,  a practical  joker  came  up 
to  him  from  behind  and  smacked  him  on  his  backside. 
Startled,  the  rabbi  turned  around. 

“Oh,  Rabbi!”  cried  the  joker,  his  teeth  chattering  with 
fright.  “The  truth  is  . . . your  back  was  turned  ...  I didn’t 
recognize  you  ...  I thought  it  was  somebody  else  . . . 
Please  forgive  me  I ...  I didn’t  mean  to  . . .” 

“Never  mind!”  the  rabbi  interrupted  him.  “There’s  no 
harm  done — I’m  no  rabbi  in  my  rear  end.” 

Montefiore  and  the  Anti-Semite 

Once  the  great  Baron  Montefiore  of  London  visited  the  Em- 
peror of  Austria.  At  dinner,  one  of  the  Imperial  Ministers, 


who  was  an  anti-Semite,  gave  an  account  of  his  travels  in 
equatorial  Africa. 

“I  didn’t  see  one  pig  or  Jew  there,”  he  remarked  mali- 
ciously to  the  champion  of  the  Jews. 

“In  that  case,”  answered  Montefiore,  “it  would  be  advis- 
able that  Your  Excellency  and  I go  there.” 

Animated  Conversation 

Sholom  Aleichem,  the  celebrated  Yiddish  writer,  was  once 
seen  by  a friend  talking  to  himself  on  the  street. 

“For  heaven’s  sake,”  cried  the  friend,  “do  you  realize 
you’re  talking  to  yourself?” 

“And  what  if  I do?”  retorted  Sholom  Aleichem.  “When  at 
last  I’ve  found  a clever  person  to  talk  to — do  you  have  to 
butt  in?” 

The  Snob 

In  a certain  town  there  lived  two  brothers.  One  was  a 
rabbi — the  other  was  a thief.  The  rabbi  was  ashamed  of  his 
brother  and  always  gave  him  a wide  berth.  One  day,  as  the 
two  met  by  accident  on  the  street,  the  rabbi  deliberately 
snubbed  his  brother.  This  enraged  the  thief  who  reproached 

“What  makes  you  so  stuck  up?  If  I were  stuck  up  I’d  have 
reason — my  brother  is  a rabbi!  But  you  have  a brother  who  is 
a thief,  so  why  do  you  put  on  airs!” 

Pessimist  and  Optimist 

The  eminent  German-Jewish  physician  and  philosopher,  Mar- 
cus Hertz,  used  to  go  calling  on  his  patients  in  a carriage 
which  bore  his  monogram  M.H.  on  the  door. 

“Why  do  you  have  such  a suggestive  monogram  on  your 
carriage?”  his  friend  Heinrich  Heine,  the  poet,  chided  him, 
“Don’t  you  know  that  in  Hebrew  M.H.  stands  for  the  Malech 
H amoves  (The  Angel  of  Death)?” 

“Ach,  Heine,  what  a pessimist  you  are!”  laughed  the  old 
doctor.  “Don’t  you  know  that  in  Hebrew  M.H.  also  stands 
for  Mechayai  Hameissim  (to  give  life  to  the  dead)?” 



Why  Not? 

The  prosecutor  began  to  cross-examine  the  witness:  “Do  you 
know  the  accused?” 

“How  should  I know  him?” 

“Did  he  ever  try  to  borrow  money  from  you?” 

“Why  should  he  borrow  money  from  me?” 

Out  of  patience,  the  judge  asked  the  witness,  “Why  do  you 
answer  every  question  of  the  prosecutor  with  another  ques- 

“Why  not?” 

Proper  Distinctions 

The  Jewish  communal  official  was  summoned  to  court  as  a 
witness  in  a case. 

“Shochet  Levy!”  called  out  the  Polish  judge. 

“I  beg  your  pardon,  Your  Honor — my  name  is  not  Shochet 
Levy,”  the  witness  demurred.  “I  am  Levy,  the  communal  offi- 

But  the  judge  was  obstinate. 

“In  my  records,”  he  persisted,  “I  read  that,  among  other 
things,  you  are  also  a slaughterer.  I,  therefore,  am  justified  in 
calling  you  ‘Shochet  Levy.’  ” 

“Your  Honor,”  replied  the  witness  with  dignity,  “when  I 
stand  before  the  court  I’m  Pan  Levy.  When  I stand  before 
my  congregation  and  conduct  the  service  I’m  Cantor  Levy 
and,  when  I stand  before  an  ox.  I’m  Shochet  Levy.” 

Evil  to  Him  . . . 

A travelling  charity  collector  was  invited  by  a hospitable 
villager  to  spend  the  night.  Before  the  stranger  went  off  to  the 
synagogue  for  evening  prayer,  his  host  noticed  with  surprise 
that  he  clamped  a padlock  on  the  box  in  which  he  kept  his 
money.  Offended  by  this,  his  host  went  and  put  his  own  pad- 
lock on  the  box. 

When  the  charity  collector  saw  the  unfamiliar  padlock  on 
his  box  he  was  chagrined  and  asked  his  host,  “What’s  the  idea 
of  putting  a padlock  on  my  box?” 

“What  do  you  mean  ‘padlock’?  There  are  two  padlocks!” 
“One  of  them  is  mine.” 

“Why  did  you  put  it  on?” 

“W-e-1-1!  You  know  how  things  are  . . . 

I’m  away  from 



home  . . . among  strangers  . . . one  has  to  be  careful! 
Things  could  be  taken  out  of  my  box!” 

“You’re  absolutely  right!”  answered  his  host.  “I  feel  the 
same  way  about  it.  You  know  how  it  is  ...  a stranger  in  the 
house  . . . valuable  things  around  . . . one  has  to  be  careful! 
Things  could  be  put  into  your  box.” 

Essential  Trade 

While  patrolling  the  streets  of  Saint  Petersburg  two  Czarist 
policemen  arrested  a Jew  who  had  no  residence  permit.  When 
the  Jew  came  before  the  inspector  he  defended  his  right  to 
live  in  the  capital  on  the  grounds  that  he  was  an  essential 
worker.  Not  wishing  to  take  the  responsibility  of  a decision 
on  himself  the  inspector  referred  the  matter  to  the  Governor 
of  the  city. 

“What  is  this  trade  of  yours  that’s  so  essential?”  the  Gover- 
nor asked  the  Jew  when  he  was  brought  before  him. 

“I  make  ink!”  modestly  answered  the  Jew. 

“What’s  so  essential  about  that?”  asked  the  Governor  con- 
temptuously. “Why,  even  I could  make  ink  if  I wanted  to!” 

“That’s  fine!”  beamed  the  Jew.  “In  that  case,  your  Excel- 
lency has  the  right  to  live  in  Saint  Petersburg  too!” 

Bitter  Jests 


The  bitter  jests  of  the  Jews  are  dipped  in  the  gall  and  worm- 
wood of  their  experience.  Since  the  Book  of  Proverbs,  the  Jewish 
folk  have  been  saying:  “Even  in  laughter  the  heart  is  sorrowful, 
and  the  end  of  that  mirth  is  heaviness.”  This  type  of  humor,  of 
course,  is  not  unique  to  the  Jews,  but  among  them,  however,  it 
has  acquired  deep  undertones  that  stamp  it  with  originality. 
Jewish  bitter  jests  exude  a certain  cosmic  irony.  They  show  the 
rational  intelligence  of  the  Jew  staggered  by  the  cruel  incongrui- 
ties of  his  enemies’  conduct. 

Most  of  the  themes  of  these  bitter  jests  treat  of  the  luckless 
fate  of  the  Jews.  Their  mirth  has  a sardonic  bite’  as  it  contem- 
plates the  bizarre  helplessness  of  their  position  in  a hostile  world. 
An  anonymous  Cervantes  must  have  conceived  the  story,  The 
Life  of  a Jew!  (see  Jewish  salt,  page  18),  which  makes  bitterly 
merry  over  some  of  the  so-called  “protectors”  of  the  Jews  who, 

the  human  comedy 

out  of  a pretended  solicitude  for  them,  inflict  on  them  as  much 
harm  as  their  worst  enemies.  The  ruefulness  of  the  Jew  in  the 
tace  of  the  violation  of  every  civilized  value  is  sharply  drawn  in 
the  anecdote,  The  Independent  Chicken,  which  describes  an  un- 
equal  encounter  with  Nazi  storm-troopers.  The  helpless  victim  tries 
to  joke  himself  out  of  his  fix,  but  his  humor  rings  absurd  in  his 
own  ears,  so  outraged  is  his  intelligence. 

Where  else  could  there  have  arisen  such  grim  jests  as  God’s 
Mercy  and  They  Shoot  First  but  out  of  the  special  conditions  of 
Jewish  life?  They  are  timeless  in  their  application,  for  the  in- 
cidents they  relate  might  easily  have  occurred  in  almost  any  age 
m.~?  Jewish  Past.  The  story  of  Hitler’s  Circus,  for  instance, 
which  has  run  through  innumerable  variants,  could  just  as  well 
have  held  true  in  Roman  days  when,  to  amuse  the  “master-race,” 
live  Jews  were  thrown  to  the  lions  in  the  circus. 


The  Independent  Chicken 

A Jew,  carrying  a chicken  under  his  arm,  was  walking  along 
the  street  in  Frankfort-am-Main.  He  was  stopped  by  a Nazi 
trooper  who  demanded,  “Where  are  you  going,  Jew?” 
To  the  store,  to  buy  my  chicken  some  food.” 

And  what  will  you  feed  this  chicken?” 


“Com,  eh?  Germans  go  hungry  while  you,  Jew,  feed  your 
chicken  on  German  corn!”  So  saying,  the  trooper  beat  the 
Jew,  then  went  on  his  way. 

,_■£  few  minutes  later  another  trooper  stopped  the  Jew. 
Where  are  you  going,  dog?” 

“To  the  store,  to  buy  my  chicken  some  food.” 

“Food,  eh?  What  kind?” 

“Some  wheat,  maybe.” 

Wheat!  Germans  are  starving  and  you  give  your  Jewish 
chicken  wheat!”  And  he  beat  him  severely. 

The  poor,  battered  Jew  continued  on  his  way  and  was 
challenged  by  yet  another  trooper.  “Where  are  you  going?” 

To  get  my  chicken  something  to  eat.” 

“So!  And  what  will  you  feed  this  chicken?” 

“Listen,”  said  the  Jew,  desperately,  “I  don’t  know.  I’ll  give 
him  a couple  of  pfennigs  and  he’ll  buy  what  he  likes!” 



Applied  Psychology 

In  a little  Southern  town  where  the  Klan  was  riding  again,  a 
Jewish  tailor  had  the  temerity  to  open  his  little  shop  on  the 
main  street.  To  drive  him  out  of  town  the  Kleagle  of  the 
Klan  set  a gang  of  little  ragamuffins  to  annoy  him. 

Day  after  day  they  stood  at  the  entrance  of  his  shop. 

“Jew!  Jew!”  they  hooted  at  him. 

The  situation  looked  serious  for  the  tailor.  He  took  the 
matter  so  much  to  heart  that  he  began  to  brood  and  spent 
sleepless  nights  over  it.  Finally,  out  of  desperation,  he  cooked 
up  a plan. 

The  following  day,  when  the  little  hoodlums  came  to  jeer 
at  him,  he  came  to  the  door  and  said  to  them,  “From  today 
on  any  boy  who  calls  me  ‘Jew’  will  get  a dime  from  me.” 

Then  he  put  his  hand  in  his  pocket  and  gave  each  boy  a 

Delighted  with  their  booty  the  boys  came  back  the  follow- 
ing day  and  began  to  shrill:  “Jew!  Jew!” 

The  tailor  came  out  smiling.  He  put  his  hand  in  his  pocket 
and  gave  each  of  the  boys  a nickel,  saying,  “A  dime  is  too 
much — I can  afford  only  a nickel  today.” 

The  boys  went  away  satisfied  because,  after  all,  a nickel 
was  money  too. 

However,  when  they  returned  the  next  day  to  hoot  at  him 
the  tailor  gave  them  only  a penny  each. 

“Why  do  we  get  only  a penny  today?”  they  yelled. 

“That’s  all  I can  afford  today.” 

“But  two  days  ago  you  gave  us  a dime,  and  yesterday  we 
got  a nickel.  It’s  not  fair,  mister!” 

“Take  it  or  leave  it.  That’s  all  you’re  going  to  get!” 

“Do  you  think  we’re  going  to  call  you  ‘Jew’  for  one  lousy 

“So  don’t!” 

And  they  didn’t 


An  old  patriarchal  Jew  from  a small  Polish  town  was  on  his 
way  to  Warsaw.  Opposite  him  in  the  train  sat  a Jew-hating 
“Pilsudski  Colonel”  with  his  dog. 

The  officer  openly  showed  his  contempt  for  the  old  Jew. 
Whenever  he  spoke  to  his  dog  he  called  him  “Yankel.”  But 
the  Jew  said  nothing.  Finally,  it  got  under  his  skin. 



“What  a pity  that  the  poor  dog  has  a Jewish  name!”  he 

“Why  so?”  asked  the  Colonel 

“With  such  a name  as  ‘Yankel’  he  just  has  no  chance!”  re- 
plied the  Jew.  “It’s  a real  handicap.  Without  it — who  knows? 
He  could  even  become  a colonel  in  Pilsudski’s  army!” 

God’s  Mercy 

A great  calamity  threatened  the  little  Ukrainian  village. 
Shortly  before  the  Passover  holidays  a young  peasant  girl  had 
been  found  murdered.  Those  who  hated  the  Jews  quickly 
took  advantage  of  the  unhappy  incident  and  went  about 
among  the  peasants,  inflaming  them  with  the  slander  that  the 
Jews  had  killed  the  girl  in  order  to  use  her  Christian  blood 
for  making  matzos.  The  fury  of  the  peasants  knew  no 

A report  spread  like  wildfire  throughout  the  village  that  a 
pogrom  was  in  the  offing. 

Dismayed  by  the  news  the  pious  ran  to  the  synagogue. 
They  rent  their  garments,  and  prostrated  themselves  before 
the.  Holy  Ark.  As  they  were  sending  up  their  prayers  for 
divine  intercession,  the  shammes  ran  in  breathlessly. 

Brothers  brothers!”  he  gasped.  “I  have  wonderful  news 
for  you!  We’ve  just  discovered,  God  be  praised,  that  the  mur- 
dered girl  was  Jewish!” 

They  Shoot  First 

A travelling  circus  once  came  to  a Jewish  town.  It  had  all 
kinds  of  performing  animals,  among  them  a bear.  One  day 
the  bear  broke  out  of  its  cage.  Thereupon,  the  chief  of  police 
issued  an  order  that  the  bear  should  be  shot  on  sight. 

The  news  that  the  bear  was  on  the  loose  frightened  the  in- 
habitants of  the  town.  One  Jew  said  to  another,  “I’m  leaving 
town!”  6 

“What  for?” 

“What  do  you  mean  ‘what  for’?  Haven’t  you  heard  the  po- 
lice chief’s  order  to  shoot  the  bear  on  sight?” 

“Well,  you’re  no  bear.” 

, “jhfi  Yhatr  y0U  Say!  Before  y°u  know  it  some  Jew  will 
be  shot.  Only  afterwards  they’ll  find  out  he’s  no  bear. . . .” 


humorous  anecdotes  and  jests 
Sedition  Saved  Him 

A Jew  was  drowning  in  the  Dnieper  River.  He  cried  for  help. 
Two  Czarist  policemen  ran  up.  When  they  saw  it  was  a Jew, 
they  said,  “Let  the  Jew  drown!” 

When  the  man  saw  his  strength  was  ebbing  he  shouted 
with  all  his  might,  “Down  with  the  Czar!” 

Hearing  such  seditious  words,  the  policemen  plunged  in, 
pulled  him  out,  and  arrested  bim. 

Hitler's  Circus 

A circus  came  to  a Bavarian  town  shortly  after  Hitler 
decreed  the  Nuremberg  laws  against  the  Jews.  Posters  were 
pasted  up  all  over  the  town  announcing  the  various  attrac- 
tions but  stressing  the  main  feature  which  was  to  consist  of  a 
man  dressed  in  the  skin  of  a lion  who  would  enter  the  cage 
of  a tiger  to  wrestle  with  him 

The  circus  had  advertised  for  a man  to  do  this  dangerous 
job,  but  the  only  applicant  to  show  up  was  a Jew  with  the  de- 
grading yellow  badge  on  his  arm. 

“Why,  you’re  a Jew!”  exclaimed  the  manager  in  amaze- 

“Who  else  but  a Jew  would  accept  such  a job?”  replied  the 
applicant  bitterly.  “No  one  will  give  me  any  employment  be- 
cause of  my  race,” 

Aren’t  you  afraid?”  the  manager  asked  with  a laugh. 
“This  is  dangerous — you  may  be  killed  by  the  tiger!” 

XfS’  ^ ^now>  but  it  doesn’t  matter,”  replied  the  Jew  wea- 
rily. “I  have  to  take  this  chance  for  my  starving  family.” 

And  so  the  Jew  was  hired. 

On  the  day  of  the  opening  a great  crowd  turned  out  to  see 
the  main  feature;  it  promised  to  be  very  exciting  indeed.  The 
circus  was  filled  to  the  tent-top. 

When  the  main  feature  came  on  the  Jew  appeared.  He  was 
trembling  in  every  limb  and,  before  the  very  eyes  of  the  spec- 
tators, he  put  on  a lion’s  skin.  Then,  roaring  like  a real  lion 
and  crawling  on  all-fours,  he  opened  the  tiger’s  cage  and 
dashed  in.  As  he  came  face  to  face  with  the  terrible  tiger  and 
looked  into  his  cruel  green  eyes  he  was  frantic  with  fear. 

“It’s  all  over  with  me  now,”  he  said  to  himself  and  he  cried 
out  in  an  unearthly  voice  the  creed  Jews  recite  in  the  face  of 

“Shema  Yisroel!  Hear  O Israel! — ” 



“Adonoy  Elohenu  adonoy  echod!  The  Lord  our  God,  the 
Lord  is  One,”  fervently  finished  the  tiger. 

“Why  you  scared  me  out  of  my  wits — I thought  you  were 
a real  tiger!”  the  lion  rebuked  him. 

“Listen,  uncle,”  snorted  the  tiger.  “What  makes  you  think 
you’re  the  only  Jew  in  Germany  trying  to  make  a living?” 

Wasted  Protection 

Gottlieb,  the  proprietor  of  a little  candy-store,  had  his 
money  deposited  in  a savings  bank.  When  business  began  go- 
ing badly  he  went  to  the  bank,  drew  his  last  $73.19  and  had 
his  account  closed.  As  he  walked  out  with  reluctant  steps, 
feeling  sad  and  let  down  by  the  world,  he  saw  the  armed 
guard  at  the  door.  Impulsively  he  walked  up  to  him  and  said, 
“My  friend,  for  my  part  you  can  go  home — there’s  nothing  to 
guard  anymore!” 


Little  Mary  McHale  liked  the  boy  who  sat  next  to  her  in 
school  and  talked  of  him  incessantly  to  her  mother.  “What  is 
he?”  she  asked,  one  day. 

“Why,  he’s  an  American,  of  course,  just  like  you,”  said  the 

“I  know  that,”  answered  Mary,  “but  what  else  is  he?” 

“Oh,”  said  her  mother,  “that!  Why,  he’s  a Jew.” 

“So  young,”  mused  little  Mary,  “and  already  a Jew . . 


Tales  and  Legends 


Biblical  Sidelights 


Jewish  religious  lore  was  never  fully  frozen  into  canon.  It  was 
in  a constant  state  of  organic  growth  and  left  room  for  further 
elaboration  and  interpretive  deepening.  This  dynamic  purpose  was 
served  by  the  vast  literature  of  the  Midrash.  The  Midrash  attempt- 
ed to  penetrate  into  the  spirit  of  the  Bible  by  revealing  its  inner 
meanings  which  were  not  in  literal  evidence  in  the  text.  The  Tal- 
mud describes  the  expository  method  of  the  Midrash  as:  “A  ham- 
mer which  awakens  the  slumbering  sparks  in  the  rock.”  This  it 
tried  to  do,  as  we  have  already  noted,  by  means  of  legends,  para- 
bles, myths,  fables  and  ethical  sayings. 

This  body  of  folklore  came  into  being  because  the  masses  of 
the  people  found  the  Scriptural  text  insufficient  for  their  under- 
standing. The  folk  were  eager  for  deeper  and  more  interior  ex- 
planations of  the  characters  and  incidents  recorded  in  the  Bible. 
This  need  may  be  seen  from  the  fact  that  the  voluminous  litera- 
ture of  the  Midrash  was  in  continuous  growth  until  about  the 
time  of  the  Crusades. 

The  mass-mind  had  a natural  inclination  to  seek  a personal 
identity  with  its  national  heroes.  This  resulted  in  a remarkable  in- 
dividualization in  the  Midrash  writings  of  all  outstanding  Biblical 
worthies  from  Adam  down  to  Jonah  and  his  whale.  It  goes  with- 
out saying  that  the  Midrash  hardly  wields  the  same  religious  au- 
thority as  Scripture.  Nonetheless,  its  very  vivid  characterizations 
of  Bible  personages,  with  its  added  wealth  of  details  and  in- 
cidents, have  in  many  ways  superseded  the  Scripture  versions  in 
the  folk-fancy.  It  is  both  the  nature  and  the  power  of  folklore 
that  the  people  themselves  serve  as  the  recreators  of  that  which 
they  are  taught. 

Not  always  does  the  Midrash  legend  follow  closely  the  Bible 
text.  Frequently  the  unknown  folk  poet  finds  in  some  general  situ- 
ation indicated  in  Scripture,  a convenient  pretext  for  his  narrative 
creations.  Thus  God’s  fashioning  of  the  world  as  recounted  in 




Genesis  gave  him  the  opportunity  to  weave  such  exquisite  allego- 
ries as  The  Secret  of  Power  [see  Jewish  salt,  page  20]  and  The 
First  Tear.  With  its  celebrated  informality  the  Midrash  even  of- 
fers leeway  for  banter.  A folk-humorist,  who  wished  to  make 
merry  over  certain  failings  allegedly  peculiar  to  women,  even 
composed  a tongue-in-cheek  “takeoff”  on  the  Bible  text  which 
deals  with  God’s  creation  of  Eve  out  of  one  of  Adam’s  ribs. 

In  the  entire  history  of  the  Jewish  people  there  was  no  person- 
ality that  left  its  stamp  on  the  Jewish  consciousness  as  indelibly 
as  Moses.  The  folk  regarded  him  not  only  as  its  greatest  hero,  its 
supreme  prophet,  its  lawgiver  and  its  ruler,  but  also  as  its  teacher. 
That  is  why  for  three  thousand  years  Jews  have  referred  to  him 
as  Mosheh  Rabbenu  (Moses,  Our  Teacher).  The  love  and  vener- 
ation of  the  people  for  him  in  every  generation  knew  no  bounds. 
Jews  were  drawn  to  him  by  those  ties  of  intimacy  created  by  the 
need  of  a weak  and  persecuted  people  for  a protector-father.  For 
them  he  possessed  all  the  intellectual  and  moral  qualities  required 
for  such  a role.  He  it  was  who  had  led  them  out  of  the  Land  of 
Bondage;  he  had  stilled  their  hunger  and  quenched  their  thirst 
during  the  forty  years  of  wandering  in  the  wilderness;  and  he  had 
shielded  them  against  God’s  wrath  when  they  offended  Him  with 
their  misdeeds. 

Of  all  the  stirring  Moses  legends  in  the  Midrash,  that  which 
describes  his  solitary  death  on  the  summit  of  Mount  Pisgah  has 
lain  closest  to  the  hearts  of  the  people.  The  Bible  account  of  it 
troubled  them.  They  found  it  hard  to  understand  why,  after  hav- 
ing suffered  and  battled  all  his  life  on  their  and  God’s  behalf,  he 
should  have  been  condemned  by  the  Divine  Will  to  die  at  the 
very  gates  of  the  Promised  Land.  The  moral  question  for  many 
became  challenging;  was  there  no  reward  for  virtue?  If  Moses, 
the  most  righteous  man  who  ever  lived,  was  denied  the  just  at- 
tainment of  his  strivings,  how  could  they,  sinners  and  backsliders 
all,  ever  hope  for  forgiveness  and  the  peace  of  the  World-to- 

Out  of  these  troubled  gropings  of  the  Jewish  folk-mind,  out  of 
its  compelling  need  to  reconcile  divine  justice  with  the  limitations, 
of  life,  emerged  the  Midrash,  Petirat  Mosheh,  The  Death  of 

The  Prophet  Elijah  has  been  the  subject  of  a greater  number  of 
legends  than  any  other  Bible  hero.  In  the  totality  of  all  these 
legends,  naive  in  character  as  they  may  appear,  he  is  built  up 
into  a highly  individuali2ed  personality — partly  human,  partly 
divine.  His  principal  mission,  as  it  appears  in  most  of  these 
legends,  is  to  counsel  and  protect  the  common  folk  in  times  of 
trouble.  In  short,  he  is  an  invisible  household  friend. 



Elijah  is  pictured  in  legend  as  being  gentle,  benign  and  tolerant 
of  human  failings.  To  the  poor  he  gives  material  help,  to  the  sor- 
rowful he  gives  comfort.  Like  a devoted  shepherd  he  watches 
over  the  sheep  that  have  gone  astray,  pleading  their  cause  before 
God  with  the  fervor  of  a father  petitioning  for  his  children. 

Much  of  Rabbinic  and  later  legend  about  Elijah  is  based  upon 
the  Agada  belief  that  he  did  not  die  like  other  mortals  but  was 
Translated”  to  Heaven  while  still  alive,  swept  aloft  in  a chariot  of 
fire  by  a whirlwind. 

Because  the  Prophet  Malachi  foretold  that  God  would  send  Eli- 
jah as  a forerunner  of  the  Messiah  before  “the  great  and  dreadful 
day,”  he  has  been  associated  in  the  Jewish  folk-mind  with  the 
mysterious  designs  of  Providence.  And,  added  to  the  fact  of  his 
miraculous  “translation”  for  which  he  is  called,  in  the  Agada, 
The  Bird  of  Heaven,”  popular  fancy  has  assigned  to  him  a 
unique  role— to  be  guide  and  helper  to  the  souls  of  men  in  the 
World-to-Come.  The  folk  conception  sees  him  as  a benevolent 
friend  standing  at  the  crossroads  of  Paradise  and  Hell.  The  souls 
of  the  pious  he  escorts  to  their  appointed  places  in  Paradise;  those 
of  the  sinner,  out  of  compassion  for  their  torments,  he  conducts 
out  of  Hell  for  their  “day  of  rest”  on  the  Sabbath  and  returns 
them  forthwith  at  the  close  of  the  Sabbath. 

Because  of  Elijah  s “translation”  to  Heaven  the  folk-mind  con- 
siders that  he  never  really  died  and  will  remain  immortal.  Cabal- 
istic literature  endows  him  with  supernatural  attributes  as  an 
angel  of  the  highest  rank.  Thus  he  can  move  about  among  men 
on  earth  in  time,  space  and  eternity,  taking  on  human  shape 
whenever  he  chooses.  His  disguises,  of  course,  are  protean  be- 
cause his  humility  obliges  him  to  dispense  his  benevolence  incog- 
nito. It  is  only  after  Elijah  has  departed  that  his  true  identity  is 

In  cabalistic  and  Hasidic  folklore,  Elijah  is  delineated  as  the 
eternally  wandering  Jew  who  never  finds  rest  from  the  missions 
of  mercy  he  has  to  perform.  This  conception,  of  course,  has  no 
connection  with  the  well-known  medieval  legend  of  the  Wander- 
ing Jew  which  is  anti-Semitic  in  character.  Jewish  folk-fancy  pic- 
tures Elijah  with  all  the  loving  details  of  informality.  He  is  a 
plain  Jew,  shabbily  dressed,  with  a wanderer’s  sack  slung  over  his 
shoulder,  trudging  along  his  solitary  way,  dusty  and  footsore.  In 
this  humble  guise,  legend  usually  has  him  appear  before  the  af- 
flicted, the  needy  and  the  sorely  beset  to  help  them  in  then- 
distress.  Probably  from  this  popular  visualization  of  Elijah  as  the 
anonymous  doer  of  good  hiding  behind  the  humility  of  his  plain- 
ness, emerged  the  mysterious  figures  of  the  Lamed-Vav-Tzad- 
dikim,  the  Thirty-Six  Hidden  Saints. 

As  an  intimate  friend,  though  usually  invisible,  the  plain  folk 
have  always  accorded  Elijah  a hearty  welcome  by  means  of  a 
quamt  symbolism.  During  the  rite  of  circumcision,  for  instance, 


Elijah  served  as  the  “Angel  of  the  Covenant.”  Therefore,  in  his 
honor,  the  most  comfortable  chair  in  the  household  is  reserved 
for  him  and  is  placed  at  the  right  hand  of  the  sandek,  or  godfa- 
ther. This  is  designated  as  “Elijah’s  Chair.”  In  orthodox  homes  it 
also  is  the  custom  during  the  Seder  home  service  on  Passover  Eve 
to  pour  a cup  of  wine  for  him  and  for  the  youngest  child  to  open 
the  door  in  order  “to  let  Elijah  in.”  Symbolically  he  thus  spends 
this  most  convivial  of  all  Jewish  festivals  in  the  bosom  of  every 


King  Solomon  ( Shelomo  Ha-Melech)  too  occupies  a foremost 
position  in  legendary  lore.  His  wisdom,  which  became  proverbial, 
marked  him  for  the  hero-as-sage  in  many  Midrashic  legends. 

The  Solomonic  folklore  literature  is  very  considerable.  This  is 
not  only  because  of  the  material  splendor  which  characterized 
Solomon’s  reign — which  legend  magnified  a thousand-fold — but 
principally  because  most  Jews  revered  wisdom.  Tradition  has  it, 
of  course,  that  King  Solomon  was  the  author  of  many  wisdom 
books:  the  Song  of  Songs,  Ecclesiastes  and  the  Book  of  Proverbs 
in  the  Old  Testament,  and  of  the  pseudoepigraphic  works:  the 
Psalms  of  Solomon,  The  Testament  of  Solomon  and  The  Wisdom 
of  Solomon.  The  Rabbinic  writers  of  those  days  sometimes  wrote 
anonymously  or  they  modestly  hid  their  individuality  under  the 
name  and  prestige  of  King  Solomon. 

King  Solomon  was  fabled  to  be  so  wise  that  he  could  read  the 
guilt  or  the  innocence  of  those  he  judged  merely  by  looking  into 
their  faces.  He  was  also  considered  to  be  one  of  the  prophets 
upon  whom  the  Shekhina  or  Divine  Radiance  dwelled.  When  the 
Shekhina  descended  upon  him,  legend  has  it,  he  was  inspired  to 
write  the  Song  of  Songs,  Ecclesiastes,  and  the  Book  of  Proverbs. 

Because  he  had  chosen  the  pursuit  of  wisdom  for  his  goal,  the 
folk  believed  that  God  had  rewarded  him  with  the  splendor  of 
power  and  great  riches.  He  also  gave  him  dominion  over  the  up- 
per world  of  angels,  over  the  nether  world  of  spirits  and  demons, 
over  all  the  earth  and  its  inhabitants,  including  beasts  and  rep- 
tiles, birds  and  fishes.  During  the  forty  years  of  his  reign,  some 
of  the  laws  of  nature  were  miraculously  reversed:  for  instance, 
the  full  moon  never  waned.  All  living  creatures  obeyed  his  com- 
mand, the  eagle  especially  serving  as  his  messenger  and  principal 
means  of  conveyance.  When  he  built  the  Temple,  reputed  by 
legend  to  have  been  the  most  beautiful  structure  the  world  had 
ever  seen,  angels  and  demons  helped  him  in  the  task.  He  hewed 
the  immense  stones  which  sent  into  its  construction  by  means  of 
the  magical  worm,  the  Shamir  [see  King  Solomon  and  the 
Worm:  demon  tales,  page  421]. 

It  is  indeed  curious  that  only  in  later  Midrashic  legends  was 
Solomon  hero-worshipped.  In  earlier  folklore  he  was  held  up  to 
righteous  scorn  for  having  negated  by  his  conduct  the  wisdom  he 



affected.  With  one  solitary  exception,  the  sages  used  him  as  a 
springboard  for  their  ethical  preachments.  They  charged  he  was 
no  wise  man  at  all,  for  only  a fool  would  be  so  concerned  with 
accumulating  a thousand  wives,  owning  innumerable  horses  and 
hoarding  untold  gold  and  silver  to  no  good  purpose.  Moreover, 
they  castigated  him  for  being  overweeningly  proud  of  his  wis- 
dom. Of  Ecclesiastes,  they  said  it  could  hardly  be  considered  a 
sacred  work  because  it  represented  only  the  wisdom  of  Solomon. 

Vivid  in  the  recollection  of  the  Jewish  folk  is  their  memory  of 
the  Prophet  Jeremiah.  Next  to  Moses  they  revere  him  most, 
conceive  him  in  terms  of  moral  grandeur.  In  the  A gad  a Jeremiah 
and  Moses  are  often  linked  together  as  having  experienced  the 
same  trials.  A Midrash  says:  “As  Moses  was  a prophet  for  forty 
years,  so  was  Jeremiah;  as  Moses  prophesied  concerning  Judah 
and  Benjamin,  so  did  Jeremiah;  as  Moses’  own  tribe  (the  Levites 
under  Korah)  rose  up  against  him,  so  did  Jeremiah’s  tribe  revolt 
against  him;  Moses  was  cast  into  the  water,  Jeremiah  into  a 
pit  . . .;  Moses  reprimanded  the  people  in  discourse,  so  did  Jere- 

The  Jewish  folk  revered  Jeremiah  not  only  for  his  prophetic 
writings  and  the  Book  of  Lamentations  which  is  credited  to  him 
by  tradition,  but  because  of  his  selfless  labors  on  behalf  of  his 
people.  Moreover  Midrashic  legend  is  steeped  in  a national  con- 
sciousness of  guilt  toward  him.  This  is  because  Jews  believe  that, 
while  he  had  devoted  his  life  to  his  people  and  was  persecuted  on 
their  account,  they  had  not  heeded  his  pleas  and  warnings  to  re- 
turn to  righteousness.  Thus,  because  of  their  many  transgressions, 
God  had  punished  them.  The  Babylonian  invader,  Nebuchadnez- 
zar, served  as  God’s  instrument  of  retribution,  and  he  destroyed 
the  Temple  that  Solomon  had  built  and  led  the  Children  of  Israel 
into  captivity. 

The  Sorrow  of  Jeremiah  undoubtedly  represents  the  most  ele- 
giac of  all  Jewish  legends.  The  folk-mind  identifies  itself  emotion- 
ally with  the  Prophet  Jeremiah’s  sorrowful  reflections  and  with 
their  people’s  historic  misfortunes.  The  legend  gives  utterance  to 
a national  grief  perhaps  unmatched  in  all  folklore. 


The  Making  of  Adam 1 

When  the  Creator  wished  to  make  man  he  consulted  with  the 
ministering  angels  beforehand,  and  said  unto  them:  “We  will 
make  a man  in  our  image.” 

The  angels  asked:  “What  is  man  that  Thou  shouldst  re- 
member him,  and  what  is  his  purpose?” 



“He  will  do  justice,”  said  the  Lord. 

And  the  ministering  angels  were  divided  into  groups. 

Some  said:  “Let  not  man  be  created.” 

But  others  said:  “Let  him  be  created.” 

Forgiveness  said:  “Let  him  be  created,  for  he  will  be  gen- 
erous and  benevolent.” 

Peace  objected  and  said:  “Let  him  not  be  created,  for  he 
will  constantly  wage  wars.” 

Justice  said:  “Let  him  be  created,  for  he  will  bring  justice 
into  the  world.” 

Truth  said:  “Let  him  not  be  created,  for  he  will  be  a liar.” 

The  Creator  then  hurled  Truth  from  Heaven  to  earth,  and, 
in  spite  of  the  protests  of  the  angels,  man  was  created. 

“His  knowledge,”  said  the  Creator,  “will  excel  yours,  and 
tomorrow  you  will  see  his  wisdom.” 

The  Creator  then  gathered  all  kinds  of  beasts  before  the 
ministering  angels,  the  wild  and  the  tame  beasts,  as  well  as 
the  birds,  and  the  fowls  of  the  air,  and  asked  the  ministering 
angels  to  name  them,  but  they  could  not. 

“Now  you  will  see  the  wisdom  of  man,”  spake  the  Creator. 
“I  will  ask  him  and  he  will  tell  their  names.” 

All  the  beasts  and  fowls  of  the  air  were  then  led  before 
man,  and  when  asked  he  at  once  replied:  “This  is  an  ox,  the 
other  an  ass,  yonder  a horse  and  a camel.” 

“And  what  is  your  own  name?” 

“I,”  replied  man,  “should  be  called  Adam  because  I have 
been  created  from  adama  or  earth.” 

The  First  Tear 2 

After  Adam  and  Eve  had  been  banished  from  the  Garden 
of  Eden,  God  saw  that  they  were  penitent  and  took  their  fall 
very  much  to  heart.  And  as  He  is  a Compassionate  Father 
He  said  to  them  gently: 

“Unfortunate  children!  I have  punished  you  for  your  sin 
and  have  driven  you  out  of  the  Garden  of  Eden  where  you 
were  living  without  care  and  in  great  well-being.  Now  you 
are  about  to  enter  into  a world  of  sorrow  and  trouble  the  like 
of  which  staggers  the  imagination.  However,  I want  you  to 
know  that  My  benevolence  and  My  love  for  you  will  never 
end.  I know  that  you  will  meet  with  a lot  of  tribulation  in  the 
world  and  that  it  will  embitter  your  lives.  For  that  reason  I 
give  you  out  of  My  heavenly  treasure  this  priceless  pearl. 



Look!  It  is  a tear!  And  when  grief  overtakes  you  and  your 
heart  aches  so  that  you  are  not  able  to  endure  it,  and  great 
anguish  grips  your  soul,  then  there  will  fall  from  your  eyes 
this  tiny  tear.  Your  burden  will  grow  lighter  then.” 

When  Adam  and  Eve  heard  these  words  sorrow  overcame 
them.  Tears  welled  up  in  their  eyes,  rolled  down  their  cheeks 
and  fell  to  earth. 

And  it  was  these  tears  of  anguish  that  first  moistened  the 
earth.  Adam  and  Eve  left  them  as  a precious  inheritance  to 
their  children.  And  since  then,  whenever  a human  being  is  in 
great  trouble  and  his  heart  aches  and  his  spirit  is  oppressed 
then  the  tears  begin  to  flow  from  his  eyes,  and  lo!  the  gloom 
is  lifted. 

Falsehood  and  Wickedness 

After  Noah  had  completed  the  building  of  the  ark,  the  ani- 
mals were  gathered  together  near  it  by  the  angels  appointed 
over  them.  They  came  in  pairs,  and  Noah  stood  at  the  door 
of  the  ark  to  see  that  each  one  entered  with  its  mate.  As  soon 
as  the  waters  of  the  flood  rose  upon  the  surface  of  the  earth, 
the  children  of  men  hid  themselves  in  their  homes  for  safety. 
All  traffic  and  business  ceased,  for  the  angel  of  death  was 
abroad.  This  state  of  affairs  caused  Falsehood  to  realize  that 
henceforth  there  was  no  chance  of  her  plying  her  trade.  Was 
it  not  quite  evident  that  the  ever-increasing  waters  of  the 
flood  would  soon  sweep  away  the  wicked  folk  who  had  re- 
belled against  their  Heavenly  Creator?  Where  should  False- 
hood betake  herself  for  safety? 

Forthwith  she  hastened  to  the  ark,  but  its  door  was  shut 
What  was  to  be  done? 

Falsehood  knocked  at  the  door  with  trembling  hand.  Noah 
opened  the  window  of  the  ark,  and  put  out  his  head  to  see 
who  was  knocking.  It  was  a strange  creature  before  the  door. 
Noah  had  never  seen  her  before,  because  he  was  a righteous 
man  who  never  told  lies. 

“What  dost  thou  want?”  he  cried. 

“Let  me  go  in,  please,”  she  replied. 

“Gladly,”  cried  Noah,  “would  I admit  thee  if  thy  mate 
were  with  thee,  for  only  pairs  are  admitted  here.” 

In  grief  and  disappointment  Falsehood  went  away.  She  had 
not  gone  a few  yards  before  she  met  her  old  friend  Wicked- 
ness, who  was  now  out  of  employment. 


“Whence  cometh  thou,  dear  friend  Falsehood?’  asked 

“I  come,”  said  Falsehood,  “from  old  father  Noah.  Just  lis- 
ten. I asked  him  to  let  me  come  into  the  ark,  but  he  refused 
unless  I complied  with  his  rules.” 

“What  does  he  require?”  asked  Wickedness. 

“The  good  old  man  stipulated  that  I must  have  a mate,  be- 
cause all  the  creatures  admitted  into  the  ark  are  in  pairs,” 
Falsehood  replied. 

“Now,  dear  friend,  is  this  the  truth?”  queried  Wickedness 
with  a merry  twinkle  in  his  evil  eye. 

“Of  course  it  is  the  truth,  on  my  word  of  honour,”  rejoined 
Falsehood.  “Come  now,”  she  added,  “wilt  thou  be  my  mate? 
Are  we  not  just  fit  to  be  joined  together,  two  honest  and  poor 

“If  I agree,"  said  Wickedness,  “what  wilt  thou  give  me  in 

Falsehood  thought  awhile  and  with  a cunning  look  at  her 
friend  she  exclaimed,  “I  faithfully  promise  to  give  to  thee  all 
that  I earn  in  the  ark.  Have  no  fear,  I shall  do  excellent 
business  even  there,  because  I feel  very  fit  and  energetic.” 

Wickedness  agreed  to  the  terms  immediately,  and  there  and 
then  a proper  agreement  was  drawn  up,  and  duly  signed  and 
sealed.  Without  further  delay  they  both  hastened  to  Noah,  who 
readily  admitted  the  happy  pair. 

Falsehood  soon  began  to  be  very  busy  and  earned  good 
money.  She  often  thought  of  her  agreement  with  Wickedness 
with  regret,  as  she  realized  that  she  alone  did  all  the  business. 
She  even  said  to  him  one  day,  “Look  here,  how  easily  I can 
carry  on  my  trade  singlehanded!” 

Wickedness  merely  reminded  her  of  the  agreement,  and  day 
by  day  he  wrote  down  in  his  ledger  the  sum  total  of  the  day’s 

At  the  end  of  the  year,  for  the  flood  lasted  twelve  months, 
they  came  out  of  the  ark.  Falsehood  brought  home  much 
treasure,  but  Wickedness  came  with  her  and  claimed  the 
whole  of  the  hard-earned  fortune.  Thereupon  Falsehood  said 
to  herself,  “J  will  ask  my  mate  to  give  me  some  of  my  earn- 

She  approached  Wickedness  and  in  a gentle  voice  said, 
“Dearest  friend,  please  give  me  a share  of  what  I have  so 
honestly  earned,  for  I alone  did  all  the  work.” 

Wickedness  looked  at  her  in  contempt  and  with  harsh 


the  human  comedy 

voice  cried  aloud,  “Thy  share  is  nought,  O cheat!  Did  we  not 
solemnly  agree  that  I was  to  take  everything  which  thou 
shouldest  earn?  How  could  I break  our  agreement?  Would 
this  not  be  a very  wicked  thing  to  do,  now  would  it  not?” 

Falsehood  held  her  peace  and  went  away,  well  knowing 
that  she  had  been  foiled  in  her  attempt  to  cheat  her  friend 

True  indeed  is  the  proverb:  “Falsehood  begets  much,  but 
Wickedness  taketh  all  that  away.” 

Abraham  and  the  Idols1 

Terah,  the  father  of  Abraham,  was  himself  an  idol  worship- 
per; he  even  carried  on  a substantial  trade  in  idols. 

One  day  he  had  to  leave  home  and  left  his  shop  full  of 
idols  in  charge  of  his  son  Abraham  who  was  then  very 

Soon  an  idol  worshipper  came  in  and  wished  to  buy  an 

“How  old  are  you?”  asked  Abraham. 

“Fifty  years,”  answered  the  idolator. 

“What!  An  old  man  like  you  bows  down  before  a mere 
image  that  was  just  finished  yesterday!  Think  it  over.” 

The  seeds  of  Truth  were  thus  planted  in  the  heart  of  the 

Another  time,  again  while  his  father  Terah  was  away,  a 
woman  came  and  placed  before  the  idols  in  the  shop  a bowl 
of  flour  as  a sacrificial  offering.  No  sooner  had  the  woman 
left  when  Abraham  picked  up  a stick  and  broke  all  the  idols. 
Only  one,  the  largest,  did  he  spare.  In  the  hand  of  this  one 
Abraham  then  stuck  the  stick. 

Upon  his  return  Terah  saw  the  destruction  Abraham  had 
wrought  among  the  idols.  He  flung  himself  upon  him,  crying 
“Who  did  this?” 

“Just  listen,  father,  and  be  amazed!”  replied  Abraham  se- 
renely. “A  woman  came  and  brought  a full  bowl  of  flour  for 
an  offering.  I placed  the  bowl  at  the  feet  of  the  idols.  Imme- 
diately, a murderous  battle  broke  out  among  them.  Each  of 
the  idols  said  the  flour  was  meant  for  him.  While  they  all 
squabbled  and  pulled,  the  largest  of  them,  determined  to 
create  order,  picked  up  a stick  and  . . . See  for  yourself— he 
killed  them  all!” 

“You  ne’er-do-well!”  cried  Abraham’s  father.  “How  can 


you  say  the  idols  squabbled  and  pulled  when  they  can  neither 
speak  nor  understand?” 

“Father,  father!”  replied  Abraham,  “the  holy  truth  lies  in 
your  words!” 

Abraham  Before  Nimrod6 

The  report  reached  Nimrod’s  ears  that  Abraham  was  mock- 
ing the  idols,  so  he  ordered  that  the  boy  be  brought  before 

Nimrod  turned  his  gaze  on  him  and  said  imperiously. 
Here  is  fire;  worship  it!” 

“My  Lord,”  answered  Abraham  fearlessly,  “wouldn’t  it  be 
better  to  worship  water  since  it  can  put  out  the  fire?” 

"Let  it  be  as  you  say:  worship  water!” 

“Shall  I do  an  injustice  to  the  clouds  which  give  the  earth 
all  its  water?” 

“Very  well  then:  worship  the  clouds!” 

“But  how  can  the  clouds  compare  with  the  winds  who  have 
the  power  to  scatter  them?” 

“Then  worship  the  wind!” 

“The  wind?  What  will  He  who  directs  the  fire,  water, 
clouds  and  wind  say  to  that?  ...  O you  blind  man!  Don’t 
you  perceive  the  mighty  Hand  that  guides  the  world?” 

The  King  was  abashed  and,  turning  away,  left  young  Abra- 
ham in  peace. 

God  Protects  the  Heathen  Too9 

Once,  as  Patriarch  Abraham  sat  at  the  entrance  of  his 
tent,  he  saw  an  old  tired  man  approach.  Abraham  arose  and 
ran  forward  to  bid  him  welcome.  He  begged  him  to  enter  his 
tent  and  rest,  but  the  old  man  declined  the  invitation  and 
said,  “No,  thank  you!  I will  take  my  rest  under  a tree.” 

But,  after  Abraham  continued  to  press  him  with  his  hos- 
pitable attentions  the  old  man  allowed  himself  to  be  persuaded 
and  entered  the  tent. 

Abraham  placed  before  him  goat’s  milk  and  butter  and 
baked  for  him  fresh  cakes.  The  stranger  ate  until  he  was  sat- 
isfied. Then  Abraham  said  to  him,  “Now  praise  the  Lord,  the 
God  of  Heaven  and  earth,  Who  gives  bread  to  all  His  crea- 

“I  do  not  know  your  God,”  replied  the  old  man  coldly.  “I 
will  only  praise  the  god  that  my  hands  have  fashioned!” 



Then  Abraham  spoke  to  the  old  man,  told  him  of  God’s 
greatness  and  loving  kindness.  He  tried  to  convince  him  that 
his  idols  were  senseless  things  who  could  neither  help  nor 
save  anyone.  He  urged  him  therefore  to  abandon  them  and 
put  his  faith  in  the  one  true  God  and  thank  Him  for  His 
gracious  acts  that  He  did  for  him  every  day.  But  to  all  of 
Abraham’s  fervent  pleas  the  old  man  answered  indignantly, 
“How  dare  you  talk  to  me  this  way,  trying  to  turn  me  away 
from  my  gods!  You  and  I have  nothing  in  common,  so  do 
not  impose  on  me  any  further  with  your  words,  because  I 
will  not  heed  them!” 

At  this  Abraham  grew  very  angry  and  cried  out,  “Old 
man,  leave  my  tent!” 

Without  a word  the  old  man  departed  and  he  was  swal- 
lowed up  by  the  dark  night  and  the  desert. 

When  the  Almighty  saw  this  He  grew  very  wrathful  and 
appeared  before  Abraham. 

“Where  is  the  man  who  came  to  you  this  night?”  He  asked 

‘The  old  man  was  stubborn,”  replied  Abraham.  “I  tried  to 
persuade  him  that  if  he  believed  in  You  everything  would  be 
well  with  him.  He  refused  to  heed  my  words  so  I grew  angry 
and  drove  him  out  of  my  tent.” 

Then  spoke  God:  “Have  you  considered  what  you  have 
done?  Reflect  for  one  moment:  Here  am  I,  the  God  of  all 
Creation — and  yet  have  I endured  the  unbelief  of  this  old 
man  for  so  many  years.  I clothed  and  fed  him  and  supplied 
all  his  needs.  But  when  he  came  to  you  for  just  one  night  you 
dispensed  with  all  duties  of  hospitality  and  compassion  and 
drove  him  into  the  wilderness!” 

Then  Abraham  fell  upon  his  face  and  prayed  to  God  that 
He  forgive  him  his  sin. 

“I  will  not  forgive  you,”  said  God,  “unless  you  first  ask 
forgiveness  from  the  heathen  to  whom  you  have  done  evil!” 

Swiftly,  Abraham  ran  out  of  his  tent  and  into  the  desert 
and  after  much  searching  found  the  old  man.  Then  he  fell  at 
his  feet  and  wept  and  begged  for  his  forgiveness.  The  old 
man  was  moved  by  Abraham’s  pleas  and  he  forgave  him. 

Again  God  revealed  Himself  to  Abraham  and  said,  “Be- 
cause you  have  done  what  is  righteous  in  My  eyes  I will 
never  forget  My  covenant  with  your  posterity.  When  they 
sin  I will  punish  them,  but  never  will  I sever  My  covenant 
with  them!” 



Moses  the  Shepherd* 

One  day,  whfle  Moses  was  grazing  his  flock,  he  noticed  that 
a little  goat  had  strayed  away,  so  he  ran  after  it  for  fear  that 
it  would  get  lost  and  die  of  hunger  and  thirst  in  the  wilder- 

Suddenly,  from  a distance,  Moses  saw  the  little  goat  stop 
and  drink  eagerly  from  a spring.  Then  he  understood  that  the 
little  animal  was  thirsty  and  for  that  reason  had  left  the  flock. 
When  Moses  came  nigh  it  he  said,  “My  dear  little  goatkin! 
Had  I known  that  you  were  only  thirsty  I would  not  have  run 
after  you.” 

When  the  little  goat  had  quenched  its  thirst,  Moses  placed 
it  upon  his  shoulders  and  carried  it  all  the  way  back  to  the 
flock.  “The  little  goat  is  weak  and  young,”  he  thought  com- 
passionately, “therefore  I must  carry  it.” 

When  God  saw  what  Moses  had  done  He  was  greatly 
pleased  and  said  to  him,  “Deep  is  your  compassion,  O Moses! 
Because  of  your  kindness  to  this  little  animal  you  will  be  the 
leader  of  My  people  Israel,  and  are  destined  to  serve  as  their 
devoted  shepherd.” 

Israel  Undying* 

Moses  was  grazing  his  flock  deep  in  the  wilderness  and  far 
from  the  habitation  of  men.  Once,  when  he  came  to  Mount 
Horab,  he  saw  a thorn  bush.  It  looked  ugly  and  forbidding.  It 
was  stunted  and  its  branches  were  full  of  briars.  As  he  gazed 
upon  it  Moses  mused  bitterly:  “To  this  thorn  bush  in  the  wil- 
derness, O my  people  of  Israel,  can  you  be  likened!  You  are 
as  lowly  and  all  who  see  you  shun  you!” 

And  as  he  stood  thus  lost  in  sorrowful  thought  about  the 
suffering  of  his  people,  suddenly  he  saw  that  the  bush  was  en- 
veloped in  flame.  Startled,  Moses  cried  out:  ‘To  this  thorn 
bush  have  I compared  my  people  Israel,  when  alas — out  of  it 
must  spring  forth  a flame  to  consume  it!  O my  Lord  God, 
must  my  people  perish?” 

And  when  Moses  saw  how  the  thorn  bush  burned  and  yet 
was  not  consumed  his  sorrow  vanished  and  he  was  filled  with 
exceeding  joy.  Then  he  heard  the  Voice  saying:  “Even  as  the 
thorn  bush  is  not  consumed  by  the  flame,  so  will  the  Jewish 
people  endure.  All  the  fires  of  hate  that  will  be  kindled 



against  it  will  be  put  out,  and  no  evil  and  misfortune  will  be 
able  to  destroy  it!” 

The  Crossing  of  the  Red  Sea9 

God  spake  to  Moses,  saying,  “Why  dost  thou  stand  here 
praying?  My  children’s  prayer  has  anticipated  thine.  For  thee 
there  is  naught  to  do  but  lift  up  thy  rod  and  stretch  out  thine 
hand  over  the  sea,  and  divide  it.” . . . 

Moses  spoke  to  the  sea  as  God  had  bidden  him,  but  it  re- 
plied, “I  will  not  do  according  to  thy  words,  for  thou  art  only 
a man  bom  of  woman,  and,  besides,  I am  three  days  older 
than  thou,  O man,  for  I was  brought  forth  on  the  third  day 
of  creation,  and  thou  on  the  sixth.”  Moses  lost  no  time,  but 
carried  back  to  God  the  words  the  sea  had  spoken,  and  the 
Lord  said:  “.  . . Lift  up  thy  rod,  and  stretch  out  thine  hand 
over  the  sea,  and  divide  it.” 

Thereupon  Moses  raised  up  his  rod— the  rod  that  had  been 
created  at  the  very  beginning  of  the  world,  on  which  were 
graven  in  plain  letters  the  great  and  exalted  Name,  the  names 
of  the  ten  plagues  inflicted  upon  the  Egyptians,  and  the 
names  of  the  three  Fathers,  the  six  Mothers,  and  the  twelve 
tribes  of  Jacob.  This  rod  he  lifted  up,  and  stretched  it  out 
over  the  sea. 

The  sea,  however,  continued  in  its  perverseness,  and  Moses 
entreated  God  to  give  His  command  direct  to  it.  But  God  re- 
fused, saying:  “Were  I to  command  the  sea  to  divide,  it 
would  never  again  return  to  its  former  estate.  Therefore,’ do 
thou  convey  My  order  to  it,  that  it  be  not  drained  dry  for- 
ever.  But  I will  let  a semblance  of  My  strength  accompany 
thee,  and  that  will  compel  its  obedience.”  When  the  sea  saw 
the  Strength  of  God  at  the  right  hand  of  Moses,  it  spoke  to 
the  earth,  saying,  “Make  hollow  places  for  me,  that  I may 
hide  myself  therein  before  the  Lord  of  all  created  things 
blessed  be  He.”  Noticing  the  terror  of  the  sea,  Moses  said  to 
it:  “For  a whole  day  I spoke  to  thee  at  the  bidding  of  the 
Holy  One,  who  desired  thee  to  divide,  but  thou  didst  refuse 
to  pay  heed  to  my  words;  even  when  I showed  thee  my  rod, 
thou  didst  remain  obdurate.  What  hath  happened  now  that 
thou  skippest  hence?”  The  sea  replied,  “I  am  fleeing,  not  be- 
fore thee,  but  before  the  Lord  of  all  created  things,  that  His 
Name  be  magnified  in  all  the  earth.”  And  the  waters  of  the 
Red  Sea  divided,  and  not  they  alone,  but  all  the  water  in 



heaven  and  on  earth,  In  whatever  vessel  it  was,  in  cisterns,  in 
wells,  in  caves,  in  casks,  in  pitchers,  in  drinking  cups,  and  in 
glasses,  and  none  of  these  waters  returned  to  their  former  es- 
tate until  Israel  had  passed  through  the  sea  on  dry  land. . . . 

God  caused  the  sea  to  go  back  by  a strong  east  wind,  the 
wind  He  always  makes  use  of  when  He  chastises  the  nations. 
The  same  east  wind  had  brought  the  deluge;  it  had  laid  the 
tower  of  Babel  in  ruins;  it  was  to  cause  the  destruction  of  Sa- 
maria, Jerusalem,  and  Tyre  and  it  will,  in  future,  be  the  in- 
strument for  castigating  Rome  drunken  with  pleasure;  and 
likewise  the  sinners  in  Gehenna  are  punished  by  means  of 
this  east  wind.  All  night  long  God  made  it  to  blow  over  the 
sea.  To  prevent  the  enemy  from  inflicting  harm  upon  the  Is- 
raelites, He  enveloped  the  Egyptians  in  profound  darkness,  so 
impenetrable  it  could  be  felt,  and  none  could  move  or  change 
his  posture.  He  that  sat  when  it  fell  could  not  arise  from  his 
place,  and  he  that  stood  could  not  sit  down.  Nevertheless,  the 
Egyptians  could  see  that  the  Israelites  were  surrounded  by 
bright  light,  and  were  enjoying  a banquet  where  they  stood, 
and  when  they  tried  to  speed  darts  and  arrows  against  them, 
the  missiles  were  caught  up  by  the  cloud  and  by  the  angels 
hovering  between  the  two  camps,  and  no  harm  came  to  Is- 

On  the  morning  after  the  eventful  night,  though  the  sea 
was  not  yet  made  dry  land,  the  Israelites,  full  of  trust  in  God, 
were  ready  to  cast  themselves  into  its  waters.  The  tribes  con- 
tended with  one  another  for  the  honor  of  being  the  first  to 
jump.  Without  awaiting  the  outcome  of  the  wordy  strife,  the 
tribe  of  Benjamin  sprang  in,  and  the  princes  of  Judah  were  so 
incensed  at  having  been  deprived  of  pre-eminence  in  danger 
that  they  pelted  die  Benjamites  with  stones.  God  knew  that 
the  Judaeans  and  the  Benjamites  were  animated  by  a praise- 
worthy purpose.  The  ones  like  the  others  desired  but  to  mag- 
nify the  Name  of  God,  and  He  rewarded  both  tribes:  in 
Benjamin’s  allotment  the  Shekinah  took  up  her  residence,  and 
the  royalty  of  Israel  was  conferred  upon  Judah. 

When  God  saw  the  two  tribes  in  the  waves  of  the  sea,  He 
called  upon  Moses,  and  said:  “My  beloved  are  in  danger  of 
drowning,  and  thou  standest  by  and  prayest.  Bid  Israel  go 
forward,  and  thou  lift  up  thy  rod  over  the  sea,  and  divide  it.” 
Thus  it  happened,  and  Israel  passed  through  the  sea  with  its 
waters  cleft  in  twain. 

The  dividing  of  the  sea  was  but  the  first  of  ten  miracles 


the  human  comedy 

connected  with  the  passage  of  the  Israelites  through  it.  The 
others  were  that  the  waters  united  in  a vault  above  their 
heads;  twelve  paths  opened  up,  one  for  each  of  the  tribes;  the 
water  became  as  transparent  as  glass,  and  each  tribe  could 
see  the  others;  the  soil  underfoot  was  dry,  but  it  changed  into 
clay  when  the  Egyptians  stepped  upon  it;  the  walls  of  water 
were  transformed  into  rocks,  against  which  the  Egyptians 
were  thrown  and  dashed  to  death,  while  before  the  Israelites 
they  crumbled  away  into  bits.  Through  the  brackish  sea 
flowed  a stream  of  soft  water,  at  which  the  Israelites  could 
slake  their  thirst;  and,  finally,  the  tenth  wonder  was,  that  this 
drinking  water  was  congealed  in  the  heart  of  the  sea  as  soon 
as  they  had  satisfied  their  need. 

And  there  were  other  miracles,  besides.  The  sea  yielded  the 
Israelites  whatever  their  hearts  desired.  If  a child  cried  as  it 
lay  in  the  arms  of  its  mother,  she  needed  but  to  stretch  out 
her  hand  and  pluck  an  apple  or  some  other  fruit  and  quiet  it 
The  waters  were  piled  up  to  the  height  of  sixteen  hundred 
miles,  and  they  could  be  seen  by  all  the  nations  of  the 
earth.  . . . 

Wonderful  as  were  the  miracles  connected  with  the  rescue 
of  the  Israelites  from  the  waters  of  the  sea,  those  performed 
when  the  Egyptians  were  drowned  were  no  less  remarkable. 
First  of  all  God  felt  called  upon  to  defend  Israel’s  cause  be- 
fore Uzza,  the  Angel  of  the  Egyptians,  who  would  not  allow 
his  people  to  perish  in  the  waters  of  the  sea.  He  appeared  on 
the  spot  at  the  very  moment  when  God  wanted  to  drown  the 
Egyptians,  and  he  spake:  “O  Lord  of  the  world!  Thou  art 
called  just  and  upright,  and  before  Thee  there  is  no  wrong, 
no  forgettting,  no  respecting  of  persons.  Why,  then,  dost  Thou 
desire  to  make  my  children  perish  in  the  sea?  Canst  Thou  say 
that  my  children  drowned  or  slew  a single  one  of  Thine?  If  it 
be  on  account  of  the  rigorous  slavery  that  my  children  im- 
posed upon  Israel,  then  consider  that  Thy  children  have  re- 
ceived their  wages,  in  that  they  took  their  silver  and  golden 
vessels  from  them.” 

Then  God  convoked  all  the  members  of  His  celestial 
family,  and  He  spake  to  the  angel  hosts:  “Judge  ye  in  truth 
between  Me  and  yonder  Uzza,  the  Angel  of  the  Egyptians. 
At  the  first  I brought  a famine  upon  his  people,  and  I ap- 
pointed My  friend  Joseph  over  them,  who  saved  them 
through  his  sagacity,  and  they  all  became  his  slaves.  Then  My 
children  went  down  into  their  land  as  strangers,  in  conse- 
quence of  the  famine,  and  they  made  the  children  of  Israel  to 


serve  with  rigor  in  all  maimer  of  hard  work  there  is  in  the 
world.  They  groaned  on  account  of  their  bitter  service,  and 
their  cry  rose  up  to  Me,  and  I sent  Moses  and  Aaron,  My 
faithful  messengers,  to  Pharaoh.  When  they  came  before  the 
king  of  Egypt,  they  spake  to  him,  Thus  said  the  Lord,  the 
God  of  Israel,  Let  My  people  go,  that  they  may  hold  a feast 
unto  Me  in  the  wilderness.’  In  the  presence  of  the  kings  of 
the  East  and  of  the  West,  that  sinner  began  to  boast,  saying: 
Who  is  the  Lord,  that  I should  hearken  unto  His  voice,  to  let 
Israel  go?  Why  comes  He  not  before  me,  like  all  the  kings  of 
the  world,  and  why  doth  He  not  bring  me  a present  like  the 
others?  This  God  of  whom  you  speak,  I know  Him  not  at  all. 
Wait  and  let  me  search  my  lists,  and  see  whether  I can  find 
His  Name.’  But  his  servants  said,  ‘We  have  heard  that  He  is 
the  son  of  the  wise,  the  son  of  ancient  kings.’  Then  Pharaoh 
asked  My  messengers,  ‘What  are  the  works  of  this  God?’  and 
they  replied,  ‘He  is  the  God  of  gods,  the  Lord  of  lords,  who 
created  the  heaven  and  the  earth.’  But  Pharaoh  doubted  their 
words,  and  said,  ‘There  is  no  God  in  all  the  world  that  can 
accomplish  such  works  beside  me,  for  I made  myself,  and  I 
made  the  Nile  river.’  Because  he  denied  Me  thus,  I sent  ten 
plagues  upon  him,  and  he  was  compelled  to  let  My  children 
go.  Yet,  in  spite  of  all,  he  did  not  leave  off  from  his  wicked 
ways,  and  he  tried  to  bring  them  back  under  his  bondage. 
Now,  seeing  all  that  hath  happened  to  him,  and  that  he  will 
not  acknowledge  Me  as  God  and  Lord,  does  he  not  deserve 
to  be  drowned  in  the  sea  with  his  host?”’ 

The  celestial  family  called  out  when  the  Lord  had  ended 
His  defense,  “Thou  hast  every  right  to  drown  him  in  the 

Uzza  heard  their  verdict,  and  he  said:  “O  Lord  of  all 
worlds!  I know  that  my  people  deserve  the  punishment  Thou 
has  decreed,  but  may  it  please  Thee  to  deal  with  them  ac- 
cording to  Thy  attribute  of  mercy,  and  take  pity  upon  the 
work  of  Thy  hands,  for  Thy  tender  mercies  are  over  all  Thy 

Almost  the  Lord  had  yielded  to  Uzza’s  entreaties,  when 
Michael  gave  a sign  to  Gabriel  that  made  him  fly  to  Egypt 
swiftly  and  fetch  thence  a brick  for  which  a Hebrew  child 
had  been  used  as  mortar.  Holding  this  incriminating  object  in 
his  hand,  Gabriel  stepped  into  the  presence  of  God,  and  said: 
“O  Lord  of  the  world!  Wilt  Thou  have  compassion  with  the 
accursed  nation  that  has  slaughtered  Thy  children  so  era- 



elly?”  Then  the  Lord  turned  Himself  away  from  His  attribute 
of  mercy,  and  seating  Himself  upon  His  throne  of  justice  He 
resolved  to  drowp  the  Egyptians  in  the  sea. 

The  first  upon  whom  judgment  was  executed  was  the  An- 
gel of  Egypt — Uzza  was  thrown  into  the  sea.  A similar  fate 
overtook  Rahab,  the  Angel  of  the  Sea,  with  his  hosts.  Rahab 
had  made  intercession  before  God  in  behalf  of  the  Egyptians. 
He  had  said:  “Why  shouldst  Thou  drown  the  Egyptians?  Let 
it  suffice  the  Israelites  that  Thou  hast  saved  them  out  of  the 
hand  of  their  masters.”  At  that  God  dealt  Rahab  and  his 
army  a blow,  under  which  they  staggered  and  fell  dead,  and 
then  He  cast  their  corpses  in  the  sea,  whence  its  unpleasant 

At  the  moment  when  the  last  of  the  Israelites  stepped  out 
of  the  bed  of  the  sea,  the  first  of  the  Egyptians  set  foot  into 
it,  but  in  the  same  instant  the  waters  surged  back  into  their 
wonted  place,  and  all  the  Egyptians  perished. 

But  drowning  was  not  the  only  punishment  decreed  upon 
them  by  God.  He  undertook  a thoroughgoing  campaign 
against  them.  When  Pharaoh  was  preparing  to  persecute  the 
Israelites,  he  asked  his  army  which  of  the  saddle  beasts  was 
the  swiftest  runner,  that  one  he  would  use,  and  they  said: 
“There  is  none  swifter  than  thy  piebald  mare,  whose  like  is  to 
be  found  nowhere  in  the  world.”  Accordingly,  Pharaoh 
mounted  the  mare,  and  pursued  after  the  Israelites  seaward. 
And  while  Pharaoh  was  inquiring  of  his  army  as  to  the 
swiftest  animal  to  mount,  God  was  questioning  the  angels  as 
to  the  swiftest  creature  to  use  to  the  detriment  of  Pharaoh. 
And  the  angels  answered:  “O  Lord  of  the  world!  All  things 
are  Thine,  and  all  are  Thine  handiwork.  Thou  knowest  well, 
and  it  is  manifest  before  Thee,  that  among  all  Thy  creatures 
there  is  none  so  quick  as  the  wind  that  comes  from  under  the 
throne  of  Thy  glory,”  and  the  Lord  flew  swiftly  upon  the 
wings  of  the  wind. 

The  angels  now  advanced  to  support  the  Lord  in  His  war 
against  the  Egyptians.  Some  brought  swords,  some  arrows, 
and  some  spears.  But  God  warded  them  off,  saying,  “Away!  I 
need  no  help!”  The  arrows  sped  by  Pharaoh  against  the  chil- 
dren of  Israel  were  answered  by  the  Lord  with  fiery  darts  di- 
rected against  the  Egyptians.  Pharaoh  s army  advanced  with 
gleaming  swords,  and  the  Lord  sent  out  lightnings  that  dis- 
comfited the  Egyptians.  Pharaoh  hurled  missiles,  and  the 



Lord  discharged  hailstones  and  coals  of  fire  against  him.  With 
trumpets,  sackbuts,  and  horns  the  Egyptians  made  their  as- 
sault, and  the  Lord  thundered  in  the  heavens,  and  the  Most 
High  uttered  His  voice.  In  vain  the  Egyptians  marched  for- 
ward in  orderly  battle  array;  the  Lord  deprived  them  of  their 
standards,  and  they  were  thrown  into  wild  confusion.  To  lure 
them  into  the  water,  the  Lord  caused  fiery  steeds  to  swim  out 
upon  the  sea,  and  the  horses  of  the  Egyptians  followed  them, 
each  with  a rider  upon  his  back. 

Now  the  Egyptians  tried  to  flee  to  their  land  in  their  chari- 
ots drawn  by  she-mules.  As  they  had  treated  the  children  of 
Israel  in  a way  contrary  to  nature,  so  the  Lord  treated  them 
now.  Not  the  she-mules  pulled  the  chariots,  but  the  chariots, 
though  fire  from  heaven  had  consumed  their  wheels,  dragged 
the  men  and  the  beasts  into  the  water.  The  chariots  were 
laden  with  silver,  gold,  and  all  sorts  of  costly  things,  which 
the  river  Pishon,  as  it  flows  forth  from  Paradise,  carries  down 
into  the  Gihon.  Thence  the  treasures  floated  into  the  Red  Sea, 
and  by  its  waters  they  were  tossed  into  the  chariots  of  the 
Egyptians.  It  was  the  wish  of  God  that  these  treasures  should 
come  into  the  possession  of  Israel,  and  for  this  reason  He 
caused  the  chariots  to  roll  down  into  the  sea,  and  the  sea  in 
turn  to  cast  them  out  upon  the  opposite  shore,  at  the  feet  of 
the  Israelites. 

And  the  Lord  fought  against  the  Egyptians  also  with 
the  pillar  of  cloud  and  the  pillar  of  fire.  The  former  made  the 
soil  miry,  and  the  mire  was  heated  to  the  boiling  point  by  the 
latter,  so  that  the  hoofs  of  the  horses  dropped  from  their  feet, 
and  they  could  not  budge  from  the  spot. 

The  anguish  and  the  torture  that  God  brought  upon  the 
Egyptians  at  the  Red  Sea  caused  them  by  far  more  excruciat- 
ing pain  than  the  plagues  they  had  endured  in  Egypt,  for  at 
the  sea  He  delivered  them  into  the  hands  of  the  Angels  of 
Destruction,  who  tormented  them  pitilessly.  Had  God  not  en- 
dowed the  Egyptians  with  a double  portion  of  strength,  they 
could  not  have  stood  the  pain  a single  moment. 

The  last  judgment  executed  upon  the  Egyptians  correspond- 
ed to  the  wicked  designs  harbored  against  Israel  by  the  three 
different  parties  among  them  when  they  set  out  in  pursuit  of 
their  liberated  slaves.  The  first  party  had  said,  “We  will  bring 
Israel  back  to  Egypt”;  the  second  had  said,  “We  will  strip 
them  bare,”  and  the  third  had  said,  “We  will  slay  them  all.” 
The  Lord  blew  upon  the  first  with  His  breath,  and  the  sea 



covered  them;  the  second  party  He  shook  into  the  sea,  and 
the  third  He  pitched  into  the  depths  of  the  abyss.  He  tossed 
them  about  as  lentils  are  shaken  up  and  down  in  a saucepan; 
the  upper  ones  are  made  to  fall  to  the  bottom,  the  lower  ones 
fly  to  the  top.  This  was  the  experience  of  the  Egyptians.  And 
worse  still,  first  the  rider  and  his  beast  were  whisked  high  up 
in  the  air  and  then  the  two  together,  the  rider  sitting  upon  the 
back  of  the  beast,  were  hurled  to  the  bottom  of  the  sea. 

The  Egyptians  endeavored  to  save  themselves  from  the  sea 
by  conjuring  charms,  for  they  were  great  magicians.  Of  the 
ten  measures  of  magic  allotted  to  the  world,  they  had  taken 
nine  for  themselves.  And,  indeed,  they  succeeded  for  the  mo- 
ment; they  escaped  out  of  the  sea.  But  immediately  the  sea 
said  to  itself,  “How  can  I allow  the  pledge  entrusted  to  me  by 
God  to  be  taken  from  me?”  And  the  water  rushed  after  the 
Egyptians,  and  dragged  back  every  man  of  them. 

Among  the  Egyptians  were  the  two  arch-magicians  Jannes 
and  Jambres.  They  made  wings  for  themselves,  with  which 
they  flew  up  to  heaven.  They  also  said  to  Pharaoh:  “If  God 
Himself  hath  done  this  thing,  we  can  effect  naught.  But  if  this 
work  has  been  put  into  the  hands  of  His  angels,  then  we  will 
shake  His  lieutenants  into  the  sea.”  They  proceeded  at  once 
to  use  their  magic  contrivances,  whereby  they  dragged  the  an- 
gels down.  These  cried  up  to  God:  “Save  us,  O God,  for  the 
waters  are  come  in  unto  our  soul!  Speak  Thy  word  that  will 
cause  the  magicians  to  drown  in  the  mighty  waters.”  And 
Gabriel  cried  to  God,  “By  the  greatness  of  Thy  glory  dash 
Thy  adversaries  to  pieces.”  Hereupon  God  bade  Michael  go 
and  execute  judgment  upon  the  two  magicians.  The  archangel 
seized  hold  of  Jannes  and  Jambres  by  the  locks  of  their  hair, 
and  he  shattered  them  against  the  surface  of  the  water. 

Thus  all  the  Egyptians  were  drowned.  Only  one  was 
spared — Pharaoh  himself.  When  the  children  of  Israel  raised 
their  voices  to  sing  a song  of  praise  to  God  at  the  shores  of 
the  Rea  Sea,  Pharaoh  heard  it  as  he  was  jostled  hither  and 
thither  by  the  billows,  and  he  pointed  his  finger  heavenward, 
and  called  out:  “I  believe  in  Thee,  O God!  Thou  art  righ- 
teous, and  I and  My  people  are  wicked,  and  I acknowledge 
now  that  there  is  no  god  in  the  world  beside  Thee.”  Without 
a moment’s  delay,  Gabriel  descended  and  laid  an  iron  chain 
about  Pharaoh’s  neck,  and  holding  him  securely,  he  addressed 
him  thus:  “Villain!  Yesterday  thou  didst  say,  ‘Who  is  the 
Lord  that  I should  hearken  to  His  voice?’  and  now  thou 


sayest.  The  Lord  is  righteous.’  ” With  that  he  let  him  drop 
into  the  depths  of  the  sea,  and  there  he  tortured  him  for  fifty 
days,  to  make  the  power  of  God  known  to  him.  At  the  end 
of  the  time  he  installed  him  as  king  of  the  great  city  of 
Nineveh,  and  after  the  lapse  of  many  centuries,  when  Jonah 
came  to  Nineveh,  and  prophesied  the  overthrow  of  the  city 
on  account  of  the  evil  done  by  the  people,  it  was  Pharaoh 
who,  seized  by  fear  and  terror,  covered  himself  with  sack- 
cloth, and  sat  in  ashes,  and  with  his  own  mouth  made  procla- 
mation and  published  this  decree  through  Nineveh:  “Let 
neither  man  nor  beast,  herd  nor  flock,  taste  anything;  let 
them  not  feed  nor  drink  water;  for  I know  there  is  no  god 
beside  Him  in  all  the  world,  all  His  words  are  truth,  and  all 
His  judgments  are  true  and  faithful.” 

Pharaoh  never  died,  and  never  will  die.  He  always  stands 
at  the  portal  of  hell,  and  when  the  kings  of  the  nations  enter, 
he  makes  the  power  of  God  known  to  them  at  once,  in  these 
words:  “O  ye  fools!  Why  have  ye  not  learnt  knowledge  from 
me?  I denied  the  Lord  God,  and  He  brought  ten  plagues 
upon  me,  sent  me  to  the  bottom  of  the  sea,  kept  me  there  for 
fifty  days,  released  me  then,  and  brought  me  up.  Thus  I could 
not  but  believe  in  Him.” 

The  Widow  and  the  Law 10 

Korah  was  a great  scoffer.  He  used  to  gather  the  Children  of 
Israel  around  him  and  abuse  our  teacher  Moses  and  his 
brother  Aaron  and  the  multitude  of  the  laws  they  established. 
One  day  he  told  them  the  following  story: 

“In  my  neighborhood  there  lived  a poor  widow  and  her 
two  daughters.  She  owned  a field  that  she  had  inherited  from 
her  husband.  When  she  began  to  plow  Moses  said  to  her. 
Thou  shalt  not  plow  with  ox  and  ass  together.* 

“When  she  began  to  sow  Moses  said  to  her,  ‘Thou  shalt  not 
sow  thy  field  with  two  kinds  of  seed.* 

“When  the  time  for  cutting  the  wheat  and  making  sheaves 
arrived  Moses  again  came  to  her  and  said,  ‘You  must  leave 
“gleanings,"  “the  poor  man’s  sheath,”  and  the  “comer.”  ’ 

“When  the  widow  got  ready  to  thresh  the  wheat,  he  said  to 
her,  ‘Yield  up  the  priest’s  share  and  the  first  and  second 

‘The  poor  woman  did  as  she  was  told  and  gave  Moses 



whatever  he  asked.  But  seeing  that  she  got  nothing  out  of  her 
wheat  she  sold  the  field  and  with  the  money  bought  two 
sheep.  She  expected  a great  deal  from  them — she’d  make 
clothing  from  their  wool  and  the  little  sheep  would  supply 
her  with  mutton. 

“But  no  sooner  did  the  sheep  bear  their  young  when  Aaron 
the  high  priest  came  and  said,  ‘Give  me  the  first-born,  for 
Moses  decreed  that  all  the  firstlings  belong  to  the  priests.’ 

“The  widow  thereupon  obeyed  the  law  and  gave  away  the 

“When  shearing  time  came  Aaron  again  came  and  said  to 
her,  ‘Give  me  the  first  shearing,  for  that  too  belongs  to  the 

“Out  of  patience,  the  widow  cried  out,  ‘I  can  no  longer  en- 
dure this!  I shall  slaughter  these  animals,  eat  their  meat,  and 
bring  an  end  to  all  this!’ 

“But  no  sooner  had  she  slaughtered  them  when  Aaron  said 
to  her,  “According  to  the  Law  you  must  give  me  the  neck, 
the  cheeks  and  the  belly.’ 

“ “What!’  exclaimed  the  widow.  ‘Is  it  possible  that  Pm  still 
not  rid  of  you?  In  that  case  neither  you  nor  I are  going  to 
have  any  of  it.  By  my  life,  I shall  consecrate  it!’ 

“ ‘If  you  consecrate  it,’  replied  Aaron,  ‘then  it  belongs  alto- 
gether to  me,  for  the  Lord  hath  said:  “Everything  conse- 
crated in  Israel  shall  be  thine.”  ’ 

“So  he  took  the  sheep  and  went  away  and  left  the  widow 

The  Angels  Jealous  of  Moses11 

Rabbi  Joshua,  son  of  Levi,  says  that  at  the  time  when  Moses 
went  up  to  heaven  to  receive  the  Law,  which  the  Lord, 
blessed  be  He,  was  giving  him,  the  angels  said,  “Lord  of  the 
universe,  what  is  a mortal  man  doing  here  in  the  heavens 
amongst  us?*  And  the  Lord  replied,  “He  has  come  to  receive 
the  Torah.”  Then  the  angels  said,  “Wilt  Thou  hand  over  to 
man  that  hidden  jewel  which  Thou  hast  treasured  up  with 
Thee  during  974  generations,  before  Thou  hadst  created  the 
world?  What  is  man  whom  Thou  hast  created?  ‘Give  Thy 
beauty  to  the  heavens’  (Ps.  8.2).  Leave  the  Torah  here  and 
do  not  give  it  to  man.”  Then  God  said,  “Moses,  answer  the 
angels  concerning  that  which  they  have  spoken  to  Me.”  And 
Moses  replied,  “Lord  of  the  universe,  I would  fain  answer 


them,  but  I fear  lest  they  bum  me  up  with  the  breath  of  their 
mouths.”  Then  God  said,  “Moses  take  hold  of  the  throne  of 
glory  and  answer  their  speech.”  And  when  our  master  Moses 
heard  this,  he  began  to  speak,  and  said,  “Lord  of  the  uni- 
verse, what  is  written  in  that  Torah  which  Thou  intendest  to 
give  to  me?  ‘I  am  the  Lord  thy  God  who  brought  thee  out  of 
the  land  of  Egypt’  (Ex.  20.2).  O angels,  have  you  gone  down 
into  Egypt?  Have  you  served  Pharaoh?  Then  why  should  the 
Lord,  blessed  be  He,  give  you  the  Torah?  Again,  what  else  is 
written  in  this  Torah?  Is  it  not  written,  ‘Thou  shalt  have  no 
other  gods  before  Me’  (ibid.  v.  3)?  Are  you  living  among 
heathens  that  you  should  serve  other  gods?  It  is  further 
written  therein,  ‘Remember  the  Sabbath  day,  to  keep  it  holy* 
(ibid.  v.  8),  which  means,  rest  on  that  day.  Are  you  working 
that  you  should  have  to  be  commanded  to  rest?  Furthermore, 
it  is  written  therein,  ‘Thou  shalt  not  take  a false  oath’  (cf.  ibid, 
v.  7).  Are  you  engaged  in  business  that  you  should  be  com- 
manded not  to  take  a false  oath?  Furthermore,  ‘Honour  thy 
father  and  thy  mother’  (ibid.  v.  12).  Have  you  a father  and  a 
mother  that  you  should  be  commanded  to  honour  them? 
‘Thou  shalt  not  murder,  thou  shalt  not  commit  adultery,  thou 
shalt  not  steal’  (ibid.  v.  13).  Is  there  envy  and  hatred  among 
you  that  you  should  be  commanded  not  to  do  these  things? 
Of  what  good,  therefore,  is  the  Torah  to  you?”  When  the  an- 
gels heard  this,  they  became  friendly  to  Moses  and  everyone 
of  the  angels  taught  him  something,  even  the  angel  of 

The  Death  of  Moses 12 

I.  Joshua  Is  Chosen  As  His  Successor 

After  the  defeat  of  the  Midianites  at  the  hands  of  Israel, 
God  said  to  Moses:  “Go  up  to  the  mountain  of  Abarim  from 
whence  you  will  see  the  land  which  I have  given  to  the  chil- 
dren of  Israel,  and  then  you  will  die,  as  your  brother  Aaron 

“Oh  Lord,”  pleaded  Moses,  “You  know  the  spirit  of  the 
living,  both  those  that  are  proud  and  those  that  are  humble, 
those  that  are  patient  and  those  that  are  restive.  I am  about 
to  depart  from  this  world,  I pray  You,  appoint  a leader  over 
the  Israelites  who  will  know  how  to  deal  with  each  according 
to  his  due.  Appoint  a leader  over  them,  who  shall  not  be  like 



the  kings  of  the  heathens  that  send  their  people  to  war  while 
they  themselves  remain  in  their  palaces  and  waste  their  time 
in  revelry,  but  one  who  will  go  out  before  the  Israelites  and 
lead  them  into  battle.” 

“Your  successor  shall  be  he  who  has  served  you  with  devo- 
tion,” said  God,  “he  who  has  shown  you  the  greatest  vener- 
ation. Joshua,  the  son  of  Nun,  shall  bring  forth  my  people 
from  the  wilderness  and  take  them  into  the  Promised  Land.” 

“Indeed,”  answered  Moses,  “I  have  proven  him,  and  he 
knows  how  to  deal  with  people  of  every  kind,  and  he  is  cer- 
tainly the  man  who  I expected  would  be  chosen  as  my  suc- 

“Take  Joshua  then,”  said  God,  “lay  your  hand  upon  him 
and  bestow  of  your  spirit  upon  him,  so  that  the  children  of 
Israel  may  accept  him  as  their  leader  while  you  are  stall  alive, 
and  honor  him.” 

Moses  went  to  Joshua  and  related  to  him  what  God  had 
spoken  concerning  him.  Joshua  wept  bitterly  when  he  heard 
that  his  beloved  master  would  soon  die  in  the  wilderness,  and 
would  not  lead  Israel  into  the  Promised  Land.  “Alas,  Mas- 
ter!” he  wailed,  “your  words  fill  me  with  sorrow.  All  Israel 
will  join  me  in  the  prayer  that  God  may  forgive  you  and  al- 
low you  to  enter  the  Promised  Land.” 

“God  is  no  mortal  who  is  apt  to  change  his  mind,”  replied 
Moses.  “His  decree  must  stand.” 

“But  am  I the  one  who  deserves  succeeding  you?”  asked 

With  kind  words  Moses  at  last  persuaded  Joshua  to 
succeed  him  as  the  leader  of  Israel  after  his  death.  He  then 
led  him  before  Eleazar,  the  high  priest,  and  before  all  the 
people  of  Israel,  and  in  their  presence  he  laid  his  hand  upon 
Joshua,  and  bestowed  his  spirit  upon  him. 

Moses  then  said  to  Joshua:  “Heed  my  advice  concerning 
how  to  lead  Israel,  and  God  will  be  with  you.  Know  that  Is- 
rael is  still  young  and  has  a great  deal  to  learn  yet.  Should  he 
sin  do  not  be  angry  with  him.  For  God  himself  never  was  too 
exacting  concerning  Israel,  but  always  forgave  him  his  back- 
slidings,  although  he  was  many  a time  provoked  to  great  an- 
ger against  him.  Now  you  must  rule  over  Israel  as  a father 
rules  over  his  children,  and  only  then  will  you  deserve  to  be 
called  the  ‘Leader  of  Israel.’  ” 

Joshua  promised  his  master  to  be  true  to  his  teachings,  and 


with  a heavy  heart  and  tears  in  his  eyes,  he  accepted  the  lead- 
ership over  Israel. 

II.  Moses  Prays  that  God  Suspend  His  Judgment 

As  the  days  of  Moses’  life  drew  near  to  their  end,  he  began 
to  pray  to  God  to  forgive  him  his  sins  and  allow  him  to  enter 
the  Promised  Land,  saying: 

“O  Lord  of  the  world!  In  Your  mercy  have  you  chosen  me 
for  Your  servant  and  through  me  You  have  performed  great 
and  wondrous  miracles  in  the  land  of  Egypt.  But  now  You 
say  to  me:  ‘Behold,  you  will  die!’  Shall  my  final  end  likewise 
be  dust  and  worms  as  that  of  all  other  mortals?” 

And  God  replied:  “No  man  can  escape  death.  Even  Adam, 
who  was  the  work  of  My  own  hands,  was  doomed  to  die;  so’ 
how  can  a man  bom  of  a woman  escape  it?” 

O Lord  of  the  World!”  said  Moses.  “You  gave  only  one 
command  to  the  first  man  and  yet  he  disobeyed  you!” 

“Isaac  who  laid  his  neck  upon  the  altar  to  be  sacrificed  as 
an  offering  to  Me,  also  died.” 

“But  from  Isaac  issued  Esau  who  will  destroy  your  temple 
and  bum  your  house  and  exile  your  children!” 

“From  Jacob  issued  twelve  tribes  that  did  not  anger  me, 
and  yet  he  too  died.” 

Yet  Moses  persisted,  saying:  “But  Jacob’s  feet  never  as- 
cended into  heaven,  and  he  did  not  walk  upon  clouds.  Nei- 
ther did  You  speak  face  to  face  with  him,  nor  did  he  receive 
the  Torah  from  Your  hand.” 

“Enough!”  cried  God.  “Speak  to  Me  no  longer  of  this  mat- 

But  Moses  pleaded  on:  “With  all  Your  creatures,  O my 
Lord  God,  You  deal  according  to  Your  attribute  of  mercy. 
You  forgive  them  their  sins  but  You  will  not  even  overlook 
my  one  sin.” 

“Not  once  but  six  times  have  you  sinned  against  Me,”  re- 
minded him  God. 

“O  Lord  of  the  World!”  pleaded  Moses  again.  “How  often 
did  Israel  sin  before  You,  and  when  I implored  Your  mercy 
toward  them  You  forgave  them,  but  me  You  will  not  for- 

“Two  vows  have  I made,”  answered  God,  “one  that  you 
will  die  before  Israel  enters  the  Promised  Land,  and  the  other 
that  Israel  shall  be  forgiven  and  not  be  allowed  to  perish.  If  I 



am  to  break  the  first  I must  also  cancel  the  other,  and  Israel 
will  have  to  die.” 

And  Moses  cried  out:  “Rather  shall  Moses  and  a thousand 
more  of  his  kind  perish  than  a single  soul  in  Israel!” 

m.  God  Rejects  Moses’  Last  Plea 

Moses  now  made  a last  effort  to  obtain  God’s  mercy,  say- 
ing: “Although  I never  saw  the  Promised  Land,  I have 
praised  it  to  the  people.  Shall  I share  the  lot  of  spies  who,  al- 
though they  saw  the  good  land,  spoke  evil  of  it  in  the 
presence  of  the  people?  You  know,  O Lord,  that  my  desire  to 
enter  the  Promised  Land  is  not  prompted  by  self-interest.  I 
wish  to  go  there  that  I might  perform  all  those  of  Your  Com- 
mandments that  are  still  to  be  fulfilled.  Forgive  me  then  my 
sin  and  allow  me  to  enter  the  land.  Then  all  living  flesh  shall 
know  that  You  are  forgiving  and  merciful.” 

“Your  sin  shall  not  be  forgiven  you,”  answered  God,  “so 
that  all  flesh  shall  know  that  the  Lord  does  not  even  discrimi- 
nate in  favor  of  him  with  whom  He  spoke  face  to  face.” 

“If  it  be  your  wish,”  urged  Moses,  “that  I do  not  enter  the 
land  as  leader  of  the  people,  then  let  me  enter  as  the  hum- 
blest of  them  all.” 

And  God  answered:  “Even  this  cannot  be  granted  to  you.” 

Then  Moses  pleaded:  “Change  me  into  a beast  that  eats 
grass  and  drinks  water,  but  let  me  enter  the  land  which  You 
have  given  to  the  Children  of  Israel.” 

“This  too  must  be  denied  you,”  replied  the  Almighty. 

“If  You  are  unwilling  to  change  me  into  a beast,  then 
change  me  into  a little  bird  that  picks  its  daily  food  wherever 
it  can  find  it  and  then  at  the  fall  of  night  returns  to  its  nest, 
only  let  me  enter  into  the  Promised  Land!” 

“Enough,  My  decree  is  unalterable!”  cried  God. 

Hearing  God’s  final  decision,  Moses  exclaimed:  “The  Rock 
of  Ages — all  His  ways  are  just!” 

And  he  implored:  “Permit  me,  O Lord,  to  make  but  one 
request  of  You.  Let  the  heavens  be  opened  and  the  abyss  be 
rent  asunder,  so  that  Your  people  may  see  that  here  is  none 
besides  You,  O my  Lord,  neither  in  the  heavens  nor  upon  the 

No  sooner  had  Moses  finished  speaking  when  the  heavens 
were  opened,  the  abyss  was  rent  asunder,  a great  light  shone 
in  the  dark  of  the  night,  and  the  eyes  of  all  Israel  were 



opened  and  they  saw  that  neither  in  the  heavens  above  nor 
on  the  earth  below  was  there  anything  except  the  greatness 
and  glory  of  God.  Thereupon,  all  the  people  cried  out  as  one 
man:  “Hear  O Israel,  the  Lord  our  God,  the  Lord  is  One!” 

IV.  Moses  Is  Ready  to  Die 

Moses  then  sat  down  to  write  thirteen  scrolls  of  the  Torah, 
twelve  for  the  twelve  tribes,  and  one  to  be  put  into  the  Holy 

When  Moses  had  completed  his  writing,  he  went  to  the 
tent  of  Joshua.  He  stood  at  the  entrance  and  listened  as  his 
disciple  expounded  the  Torah  to  a number  of  Israelites. 
Meanwhile  more  people  arrived,  and  when  they  beheld  Moses 
standing  at  the  entrance,  they  ran  into  the  tent  and  ex- 
claimed: “Alas!  you  show  no  respect  to  our  great  leader  and 
teacher,  if  you  thus  permit  him  to  stand  at  the  entrance  of 
your  tent.” 

Joshua  thereupon  looked  toward  the  entrance,  and  when  he 
saw  Moses  standing  there,  he  tore  his  garments  and  weeping 
said:  “Pray  enter  the  tent  and  expound  the  Torah  to  your 
humble  servants.” 

“From  this  day  on,”  Moses  replied,  “I  shall  be  your  disci- 

Moses  and  Joshua  then  went  to  the  Tabernacle,  but  as  they 
entered,  a cloud  descended  and  separated  them.  God  then 
spoke  to  Joshua,  and  His  words  were  not  audible  to  Moses. 
Moses  asked  Joshua  what  God  had  said,  but  Joshua  replied 
that  God  would  not  permit  him  to  tell  of  what  He  had  spo- 
ken to  him. 

“Now,  I am  willing  to  die,”  said  Moses  to  God. 

“Go  up  to  the  top  of  Mount  Pisgah,”  God  commanded 
him,  “and  from  there  I will  show  you  the  land  of  Israel  and 
tell  you  of  all  that  will  befall  the  Israelites  in  days  to  come.” 

V.  Moses  Chastises  Samael,  the  Angel  of  Death 

When  God  saw  that  Moses  was  ready  to  die,  he  said  to  the 
angel  Gabriel:  “Go  fetch  Me  the  soul  of  Moses!” 

“How  can  I approach  and  take  the  soul  of  him  who  has 
wrought  so  many  miracles?”  asked  Gabriel.  “O  Lord  of  the 
world!  Adam  sinned  against  You,  and  therefore  You  re- 
moved Your  glory  from  him  and  bestowed  it  upon  Moses 
whom  You  love. 



“Noah,  who  found  favor  in  My  eyes  because  of  his  righ- 
teousness and  simplicity,  also  died.” 

“Noah  saved  only  himself  when  You  sent  a flood  upon  the 
world,”  argued  Gabriel,  “nor  did  he  care  to  pray  to  You  for 
the  lives  of  the  people  who  were  to  be  destroyed.  But  Moses, 
your  servant,  would  not  leave  Your  presence  until  You  had 
promised  him  that  You  would  forgive  the  people  their  sin.” 

“Abraham,  who  was  kind  and  righteous,  he  too  did  not  es- 
cape death,”  answered  God. 

“Abraham  was  indeed  a great  man,  for  he  gave  food  to  the 
poor  and  provided  them  with  all  their  wants,  but  this  was 
done  by  him  in  a settled  land,  whereas  Moses  provided  an  en- 
tire nation  with  food  in  a wilderness  where  there  was  neither 
food  nor  drink,”  said  Gabriel. 

“No  mortal  can  escape  death!”  said  God.  “Such  is  My 

Then  Gabriel  went  on  to  plead:  “O  Lord  of  the  world! 
Pray  give  this  mission  to  anyone  it  pleases  You,  but  not  to 

God  then  tinned  to  the  angel  Michael  and  said  to  him: 
“Go  and  fetch  me  the  soul  of  Moses!” 

Answered  Michael:  “How  can  I presume  to  approach  and 
take  the  soul  of  him  who  is  equal  in  Your  eyes  to  sixty  myri- 
ads of  people?” 

“You  go  then!”  said  God  to  the  angel  Zagzagel.  “Go  and 
fetch  me  the  soul  of  Moses.” 

“Lord  of  the  world!”  replied  Zagzagel.  “When  Moses  as- 
cended to  heaven  to  receive  the  Torah,  I was  his  teacher  and 
he  was  my  disciple.  How  can  I take  his  soul?” 

God  then  said  to  Samael,  the  Angel  of  Death:  “Go  and 
fetch  me  the  soul  of  Moses!” 

Samael  rejoiced  over  this  mission.  He  took  his  sword  and 
wrapped  himself  in  wrath  and  hastened  to  Moses.  But  when 
he  beheld  the  face  of  Moses  and  gazed  into  his  eyes,  the  radi- 
ance of  which  was  equal  to  that  of  the  sun,  he  trembled  and 
drew  back. 

“Why  do  you  stand  there?  What  is  it  you  want  of  me?” 
asked  Moses. 

“The  God  of  heaven  and  earth,  He  who  created  all  souls, 
has  sent  me  to  take  your  soul,”  replied  the  Angel  of  Death. 

“I  will  not  give  you  my  soul!”  cried  Moses.  “Leave  me  at 
once,  for  I stand  here  declaring  the  glory  of  God!” 

To  which  the  Angel  of  Death  replied:  “The  heavens  de- 


clare  the  glory  of  God  and  the  firmament  sheweth  His  hand- 

“But  I will  silence  the  heavens  and  the  firmament,  and  I 
myself  will  narrate  His  glory,”  said  Moses. 

“All  souls  since  the  creation  of  the  world  were  delivered 
into  my  hands,”  continued  the  Angel  of  Death.  “Now  pray 
let  me  approach  you  and  take  your  soul  too.” 

“Go  away!”  cried  Moses.  “I  will  not  give  you  my  soul!” 

In  great  terror  Samael  returned  to  God  and  said:  “Lord  of 
the  world!  I am  unable  to  approach  the  man  to  whom  You 
sent  me.” 

God’s  wrath  was  now  kindled  against  Samael  and  He  said 
to  him:  “Go  to  him  again  and  fetch  Me  his  soul!” 

So  Samael  drew  his  sword  from  its  sheath,  girded  himself 
in  cruelty,  and  in  a towering  fury  went  off  to  see  Moses. 
When  Moses  beheld  Samael  he  arose  in  anger  and  with  the 
staff  upon  which  was  engraved  the  Ineffable  Name,  he  drove 
him  away.  The  Angel  of  Death  fled  in  terror  but  Moses  pur- 
sued him.  When  finally  he  caught  up  with  Samael  he  struck 
him  with  his  staff  and  blinded  him.  At  that  very  moment  a 
ringing  Voice  from  heaven  was  heard  calling: 

“Your  last  second  is  at  hand,  Moses!” 

Hearing  this,  Moses  stood  up  in  prayer,  and  murmured: 
“Lord  of  the  world,  remember  the  day  on  which  You  ap- 
peared to  me  in  the  bush  of  thorns  and  commanded  me  to  go 
to  Pharaoh  and  bring  forth  Your  people  from  the  land  of 
Egypt.  Recall  also  the  day  I ascended  into  heaven  where  for 
forty  days  I had  neither  food  nor  drink.  I pray  You,  gracious 
and  merciful  God,  do  not  surrender  my  soul  into  the  hands 
of  the  Angel  of  Death!” 

Then  the  Heavenly  Voice  spoke  once  again:  “Be  comfort- 
ed, Moses!  I myself  will  take  your  soul.  I myself  will  bury 

VI.  The  Death  of  Moses 

God  revealed  Himself  to  Moses  from  the  highest  heaven, 
and  with  God  descended  three  angels,  Michael,  Gabriel  and 
Zagzagel.  Michael  arranged  the  couch  for  Moses,  Gabriel 
spread  upon  it  the  white  napkin  for  the  head,  and  Zagzagel 
the  one  for  the  feet. 

Then  Michael  stood  on  the  right  side  of  Moses,  Gabriel  on 



his  left,  Zagzagel  at  his  feet,  and  the  Majesty  of  God  hovered 
over  his  head. 

And  the  Lord  said  to  Moses:  “Shut  your  eyes.” 

Moses  obeyed. 

Then  the  Lord  said:  “Press  your  hand  upon  your  heart.” 

Moses  did  so. 

Then  the  Lord  said:  “Place  your  feet  in  order.” 

Moses  obeyed  God’s  command. 

Thereupon  the  Lord  addressed  the  soul  of  Moses:  “My 
daughter!  For  one  hundred  and  twenty  years  have  you  in- 
habited this  undefiled  body  of  dust.  But  now  your  hour  is 
come.  Rise  and  fly  into  Paradise!” 

But  the  soul  replied:  “I  know  that  You  are  the  God  of 
spirits  and  of  souls.  You  created  me  and  put  me  into  the 
body  of  this  righteous  man.  Is  there  anywhere  in  the  world  a 
body  so  pure  and  holy  as  this  one?  During  these  one  hundred 
and  twenty  years  I learned  to  love  it,  and  now  I do  not  wish 
to  leave  it.” 

God  replied:  “My  daughter,  do  not  hesitate,  but  come 
forth  for  your  end  has  come.  I will  place  you  in  the  highest 
heaven  and  let  you  dwell,  like  the  Cherubim  and  the  Sera- 
phim, beneath  the  throne  of  Divine  Majesty.” 

But  the  soul  replied:  “Lord  of  the  world!  I desire  to  re- 
main with  this  righteous  man,  for  he  is  purer  and  holier  than 
the  very  angels.  When  the  Angels  Azael  and  Shemhazai  de- 
scended from  heaven  to  earth,  they  became  corrupt,  but  the 
son  of  Amram,  a creature  of  flesh  and  blood,  has  not  sinned 
from  the  moment  he  saw  the  light  of  day.  Let  me  therefore,  I 
implore  You,  remain  where  I am.” 

Then  God  bent  over  the  face  of  Moses  and  kissed  him.  At 
once  the  soul  leaped  up  in  joy  and  with  the  kiss  of  God  flew 
into  Paradise. 

A sad  cloud  darkened  the  sky,  and  the  heavens  and  the 
earth  wailed:  “The  pious  one  has  been  lost  from  the  earth, 
and  there  is  none  more  righteous  among  men!” 

Joshua  rent  his  garments  and  lamented:  “Help,  O Lord, 
for  there  are  no  longer  any  pious  ones,  and  the  faithful  have 
departed  from  the  midst  of  men!” 

And  all  Israel  lamented  the  loss  of  Moses,  crying:  “The 
righteousness  of  the  Lord  has  he  performed,  and  he  has  ex- 
ecuted his  judgment  in  Israel.” 

And  when  all  the  voices  were  silenced,  the  Divine  Presence 


proclaimed:  “There  has  not  arisen  a prophet  in  Israel  like 
Moses  whom  the  Lord  knew  face  to  face.” 

Why  God  Forgives  Man 18 

Elijah  the  Prophet  once  told  the  following  story: 

“It  happened  that  I came  to  a great  city,  one  of  the 
greatest  in  the  world.  In  that  city  lived  a government  official 
whose  duty  it  was  to  investigate  suspicious  characters.  When 
he  saw  me  he  led  me  into  the  king’s  palace  where  a priest 
came  toward  me  and  asked,  ‘Are  you  a scholar?’ 

“I  answered,  ‘I  know  a little.’ 

‘To  which  he  said,  ‘If  you’ll  give  me  the  right  answer  to 
the  question  which  I am  going  to  ask  you  I will  let  you  go  in 

“I  said,  ‘Ask!’ 

“ ‘Why  did  the  Almighty  create  reptiles?  Why  did  he  need 
such  ugly  crawling  creatures  in  his  beautiful  world?’ 

“I  answered  him:  The  Almighty  is  a stem  judge.  But  He 
also  loves  justice,  benevolence  and  truth.  He  foresees  the  out- 
come of  everything  and  foretells  the  future.  He  is  concerned 
with  the  good  only.  With  His  profound  wisdom  He  created 
the  world  and  all  that  is  on  it.  After  that  He  fashioned  man. 
And  the  only  reason  He  made  man  was  that  he  serve  Him 
with  all  his  heart,  so  that  He  should  take  pleasure  in  him  and 
in  the  generations  that  spring  from  his  loins  until  the  end  of 

“ ‘But  when  man  procreated  and  his  number  became  great 
he  began  to  worship  the  sun  and  stones  and  wooden  idols. 
From  day  to  day  the  sinfulness  of  man  had  been  mounting  so 
that  he  deserved  death  and  greatly  tried  God’s  patience. 

“ ‘At  that  point  God  looked  upon  all  the  creatures  He  had 
created  in  the  world  and  said:  “Men  have  life  and  these  crea- 
tures have  life.  Men  have  souls  and  these  creatures  have 
souls.  Men  eat  and  drink  and  these  creatures  eat  and  drink. 
Therefore,  men  too  are  animals  and  are  no  better  than  the 
reptiles  that  I have  created.” 

“ ‘Immediately  thereafter  the  Almighty’s  wrath  subsided 
and  he  withheld  his  hand  from  destroying  mankind.  From 
this,  therefore,  you  can  see  that  God  created  reptiles,  so  that 
He  would  have  some  creatures  with  which  to  compare  man 
and  shame  him  into  humility.’  ” 


King  David  Bows  Before  an  Idol 14 

When  David  reached  the  summit  of  the  Mount  of  Olives  he 
said  to  his  servants,  “Go  and  find  me  an  idol  and  bring  it 

When  David’s  servants  went  to  do  his  bidding  they  met 
Hushai  the  Archite,  the  king’s  friend.  He  asked  them,  “Where 
are  you  going?” 

ITiey  answered,  “David,  our  king,  has  commanded  us  to 
bring  him  an  idol.” 

Astounded,  Hushai  went  to  David  and  asked,  “Tell  me,  O 
King,  why  did  you  bid  your  servants  to  bring  you  an  idol?” 

And  David  replied,  “I  wish  to  bow  before  the  idol.” 

When  Hushai  heard  these  words  he  rent  his  garments  and 
strewed  ashes  on  his  head  and  cried  aloud,  “Woe  is  me  that  a 
man  like  King  David  should  bow  before  an  idol.” 

Then  spoke  the  king:  “Do  not  grieve  so,  my  friend!  Don’t 
you  know  how  great  my  fame  is  throughout  the  world?  All 
who  have  heard  of  me  say:  ‘There  is  no  man  as  virtuous  as 
David.  He  rules  his  people  with  the  fear  of  God  in  his  heart 
He  does  only  good,  metes  out  justice  and  fulfills  all  of  God’s 
commandments.’  Now  therefore  consider,  Hushai,  when  the 
people  hear  about  my  miserable  plight,  how  my  son  Absalom 
attacked  me  and  tried  to  kill  me,  what  do  you  suppose  they 
will  think?  They  will  say,  ‘What  a waste  to  worship  such  a 
God!  With  Him  there  is  neither  justice  nor  reward  of  virtue.’ 
For  that  reason,  I have  decided  to  bow  down  before  an  idol 
in  order  to  defame  myself.  Then  people  will  be  able  to  say, 
There  you  have  proof  there  is  a God  in  heaven  and  a sover- 
eign over  the  earth!  He  rules  with  truth  and  with  justice  and 
punishes  even  mighty  King  David  for  his  idol-worship.’  ” 

Better  than  a Dead  Lion 15 

Once  King  David  said  to  God,  “Lord  of  the  Universe!  I beg 
of  You,  tell  me  the  day  when  I will  die.” 

God  answered,  “I  have  decreed  that  no  mortal  should 
know  his  last  day.” 

“Then  tell  me — how  many  years  will  I live?”  David  im- 

“I  have  decreed  that  no  mortal  shall  know  the  number  of 
his  years  on  earth.” 

“Tell  me  then,  O Lord  of  the  Universe,  on  what  day  in  the 
week  will  I die?” 


And  the  Creator  answered,  “You  will  die  on  the  Sabbath 

“Let  me  die  on  the  day  after  the  Sabbath,”  pleaded  David. 

“That  cannot  be,”  answered  God.  “The  rule  of  your  son, 
Solomon,  begins  on  the  day  after  the  Sabbath.” 

“Then  let  me  die  a day  before  the  Sabbath!”  implored  King 

“No  man  may  die  before  his  hour  comes,”  answered  the 
Almighty.  “Dearer  to  Me  is  the  Torah  that  you  will  study  for 
one  single  day  than  a thousand  sacrifices  your  son  Solomon 
will  bring  upon  My  altar  as  King.” 

From  that  time  on  King  David  spent  the  entire  Sabbath 
day  in  devoted  study  of  the  Torah.  And,  when  the  Sabbath 
on  which  he  was  to  die  arrived,  the  Angel  of  Death  rose  up 
against  him;  but  he  had  no  power  over  him,  for  King  David 
did  not  cease  his  studying. 

“What  shall  I do  with  him?”  cried  the  Angel  of  Death  in 

Behind  the  royal  palace  lay  a lovely  garden,  and  so  the 
Angel  of  Death  entered  it  and  began  to  shake  the  trees.  Hear- 
ing the  noise,  David  went  to  see  who  was  disturbing  the  Sab- 
bath peace.  And  as  he  walked  he  did  not  cease  his  devoted 
study  of  the  Torah.  But  as  he  descended  the  steps  he  lost  his 
balance  and  for  one  instant  the  sacred  words  became  stilled 
on  his  lips.  In  that  very  instant  the  Angel  of  Death  smote 

Thereupon,  Solomon  inquired  of  the  sages:  “What  shall  I 
do?  My  father  lies  dead  in  the  fierce  sun.  The  dogs  are  hun- 
gry. They  bark  and  sharpen  their  teeth.” 

The  sages  replied,  “Your  father  was  a king  in  his  life.  Now 
that  he  is  dead  he  is  only  a corpse.  One  may  not  violate  the 
Sabbath  for  the  sake  of  a dead  man.” 

And  when  Solomon  heard  these  words  he  commented,  “A 
live  dog  is  better  than  a dead  lion.” 

The  Wall  of  the  Poor 18 

When  Solomon  wished  to  build  the  Temple  in  the  holy  city 
of  Jerusalem,  an  angel  of  God  appeared  to  him  and  said, 
“Solomon,  son  of  David,  King  of  Israel,  since  thou  dost  know 
that  the  Temple  which  thou  wilt  build  Me  will  be  the  holy 
place  of  the  people,  the  portion  of  all  Israel,  summon  all  Is- 



rael  and  let  each  man  take  part  in  the  work,  each  one  ac- 
cording to  his  capacity.” 

So  King  Solomon  sent  forth  and  summoned  assemblies  of 
his  people  Israel,  and  not  one  man  was  missing.  There  came 
the  princes  and  the  rulers,  and  priests  and  the  nobles,  as  well 
as  the  needy  and  the  poor.  And  Solomon  cast  lots  for  the  la- 
bor, for  everything  was  apportioned  by  lot.  And  the  lots  fell 
in  this  manner:  to  the  princes  and  rulers,  the  cupolas  of  the 
pillars  and  the  steps;  to  the  priests  of  Aaron’s  seed  and  to  the 
Levites,  the  Ark  of  the  Testimony  and  the  curtain  which  is 
upon  it;  to  those  mighty  in  wealth,  the  eastern  side